• A picture of Kylie with her 24-year-old son who's in Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre at Silverwater in Sydney, begging to get vaccinated. (Kylie Hughes)Source: Kylie Hughes
Confirmed cases in the state’s prison population now exceed 150 with Sydney’s Parklea and Silverwater jails the two facilities most affected.
Nadine Silva

3 Sep 2021 - 2:09 PM  UPDATED 3 Sep 2021 - 3:26 PM

Wiradjuri woman Kylie Hughes hasn’t heard her son’s voice since last Friday.

“That's, you know, sort of how he gets through his days … just hearing our voices helps him and he can't even do that at the moment,” she told NITV News.

Ms Hughes is concerned for the wellbeing of her 24-year-old son, who is in lockdown in Sydney’s Silverwater jail, due to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the facility.

There are more than 50 confirmed cases of the virus in Silverwater, while across New South Wales there are at least 150 infections. Parklea Correctional Facility is the worst hit with 96 cases of COVID.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are grossly over-represented in the state’s prison system, making up 25 per cent of all people incarcerated.

Ms Hughes said her son is worried about catching the virus and has been asking to get vaccinated.

“He says he's just a sitting duck … he’s just waiting to catch it,” she said.

“As a parent, it's hard sitting at home waiting for a phone call to say he's got COVID or he's passed away from it.

“It's heartbreaking. You just wait for it every single day.”

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Ms Hughes said that her son hasn’t been allowed to leave his cell in five days due to the lockdown, which happened after inmates were transferred from Parklea.

She believes there’s a lack of care towards prisoners by staff.

“Corrections don't see them as human beings. They're just a mere number,” she said.

“They've had two days where they've washed all the inmates' clothing, but they haven’t done my son's or his cellmates, and they haven’t removed the rubbish out of the cell for five days.

“It's a breach of their basic human rights.”

Ms Hughes is one of thirteen NSW families that have been in contact with advocacy organisation Human Rights Watch to express their concerns about loved ones inside.

They say their relatives have either not been vaccinated or have only received one dose of a vaccine within the past week, despite repeatedly asking for the jab.

The Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network, who are responsible for vaccinating public prisons in NSW Wales said that 42 per cent of the prison population have received at least one dose since they began administering jabs in March.

“To protect our staff and patients, we are ramping up our vaccination program over the coming weeks,” they said in a statement.

But Human Rights Watch Australia Researcher Sophie McNeill says that’s not good enough.

“The New South Wales government has failed to prevent vaccination rates for prisoners from lagging well behind the general population even though prisoners are at a far greater risk of contracting COVID-19,” she said.

Human Rights Watch is calling on all states and territories to release weekly updates on vaccination rates for prisons.

Calls for protective equipment

Wiradjuri woman Nicole Reid’s fiancé is in Goulburn Corrections Centre.

She said he’s been pleading for help after he woke up with a sore throat and runny nose on Thursday.

“I'm a little bit stressed because if something does happen… I won’t get to see him anyway,” Ms Reid said.

Ms Reid’s fiancé told her that Goulburn prison went into lockdown earlier this week after a couple of inmates who transferred from Parklea tested positive for the virus.

“They got told to clean up the cells that the COVID people are in but they weren’t given any masks, gloves or anything safe to clean with,” she said.

“Everyone else has to stick to the masks and everything, so why aren’t they?”

A spokesperson for Corrective Services NSW refuted this.

"Claims that inmates at Goulburn Correctional Centre were asked to clean up areas where COVID-19 cases are housed is incorrect," they said in a statement.

"There have been no positive COVID-19 cases at Goulburn Correctional Centre."

Ms Hughes also said expressed similar concerns about Silverwater prison.

“Covid cleaning is done by other inmates,” she said.

“They aren't given any Personal Protective Equipment but they're sent in to clean up.”

Corrective Services NSW said that PPE is on hand at their facilities.

"Surgical masks, as well as hand soap and hand sanitiser is available at our prisons and court cells," they said.

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