Government must be prepared for COVID-19 outbreaks in WA prisons

Greens spokesperson for Corrective Services and Health Hon Alison Xamon MLC has called on the Government to ensure its plan to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic extends to the state’s overcrowded prisons.

Hon Xamon said her questions in Parliament this week revealed Government run Hakea Prison was significantly understaffed including, notably, in health-related roles.

She said she was concerned to learn the prison had vacancies for two FTE clinical nurses, one FTE pharmacist, one FTE nurse practitioner and three FTE prisoner medical officers. 

“Hakea is already failing to meet the health needs of the prison population – and we know that COVID-19 is likely to spread quicker among prisoners than in the general population,” Hon Xamon said.

“Research on other communicable diseases, like tuberculosis, has shown infections are likely to spread among prisoners at 100 times the rate of the general population.

“This, together with limited staffing numbers, means any outbreak of COVID-19 among incarcerated populations could potentially be disastrous.”

Hon Xamon said the Government must take note of the first case of COVID-19 diagnosed in a UK prison yesterday.

She said it was crucial WA prisoners were able to spend time outside of their cells – and able to effectively practice the social distancing needed to slow the spread of the virus.

“We know that the state’s prison population already have worse health outcomes than the general population,” Ms Xamon said.

“There are much higher instances of smoking and respiratory problems than the rest of the community – and the rate of diseases such as Hepatitis C is much higher.

“This certainly make prisoners more vulnerable to health complications related to coronavirus - and we are likely to see many deaths if coronavirus is not contained.

“The World Health Organisation recognises that an outbreak in prisons threatens staff as well as people on the outside.”

Hon Xamon said it was crucial the Government ensured adequate staffing in all WA prisons, and a robust plan was put into place urgently.

“We know that countries such as Spain and Iran have ordered the release of prisoners in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus,” Ms Xamon said.

“And we know that the decision to cancel jury trials means that prisoners on remand will be left in prison for even longer than they ordinarily would.

“The Government needs to be looking at who does not need to be there, releasing them – and ensuring it is ready to tackle COVID-19 for those who remain in our prisons.”


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