Prisons prepared to release up to 1000 inmates if outbreak worsens

Corrective Services is making preparations to use the powers “very quickly if, indeed, we have to” if the situation deteriorates, Mr Corcoran said.

Up to 1000 inmates could be eligible for release under the powers, but this would be cut down to around 200 once they were fully assessed by corrections, including for risk to the community.

In a system with 13,000 inmates, Mr Corcoran said the release of that number of prisoners would not significantly assist with controlling transmission.

“A couple of 100 is not going to make a huge difference, even though I know it is a very emotive issue,” he said.

He said he was very concerned about vulnerable inmates with underlying health conditions but said the public health measures being put in place, including widespread rapid antigen tests, would make prisons safe.

”If we can put a ring around the prison with these rapid antigen screening, it becomes a very safe environment,” he said.

Corrections Minister Anthony Roberts praised prison staff for their handling of the pandemic and said extensive preparation had enabled a “quick and efficient response to any breaches in the COVID-19 defence system”.

According to NSW Health data, there have been 100 COVID-19 cases identified in the prison system since August 12.

All inmates are tested when they arrive in custody and are managed in quarantine for 14 days before they are cleared to move into the general prison population. Positive cases or people with symptoms are kept isolated and receive treatment.

Inmates and corrections staff have been offered vaccines as batches became available, with 7000 doses of Pfizer secured in a bid to ramp up immunisation rates.

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“People were a bit reluctant to take the AstraZeneca there for a while. So, that really put a bit of a hole in our campaign to get people vaccinated,” Mr Corcoran said.

One staff member at privately run Parklea has been infected and nine employees at Bathurst prison have been infected.

Corrective Services, Justice Health and MTC-Broadspectrum, which manages Parklea, have not provided comprehensive data on vaccination levels among inmates and staff.

Stewart Little, general secretary of the Public Service Association of NSW, said the union’s estimate was 50 per cent full vaccination and 75 per cent partial vaccination among prison staff.

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