Oceania: coronavirus, prison fever
Access to healthcare, sentence adjustments, acts of protest, contacts with the outside world: what are the consequences of the pandemic on the living conditions in Oceanian prisons? // Updated on 30 June 2020 at 19:00 CEST.
11 May Three prisoners tested negative for the coronavirus in Hopkins prison, inVictoria state, after testing positive on their first test. The correctional centre remained in lockdown while 200 other prisoners were being tested.
23 April A second prison staff member tested positive at Wolston prison. Approximately twenty prisoners were quarantined after being in contact with them.
2 April. Sixty-nine detainees in New South Wales exhibited symptoms consistent with COVID-19. They were placed in isolation and the first tests were performed.
26 March Two staff members at Long Bay penitentiary hospital in New South Wales* tested positive for coronavirus.
25 March. A staff member from Wolston prison in Queensland tested positive for coronavirus.
Contact with the outside world
5 June. The Prison Administration of Queensland arranged a voice mail service to facilitate contact between the prisoners and their relatives. This new device would be in addition to the email correspondence and video calls. The suspension of visits remained in effect.
5 May. The federal government launched a programme called “Safe travel plans”. It aimed to support the return of aboriginal prisoners at the end of their sentence within their community with the provision of transport and accommodation. Any prisoner going out must observe a compulsory period of isolation.
1 May. Victoria prisons have reportedly been conducting about 600 “virtual visits” a day.
16 April. The suspension of visits led to prisoners using alternative means to procure drugs. Old officially-stamped mail from lawyers, which is considered confidential, is allegedly being used by detainees.
13 April. There were about 1,200 virtual visits to the **New South Wales * prisons. The 14,000 detainees in this state were isolated for the previous month and were not allowed visits in person.
10 April. Inmates in the women’s prison of Darwin in the North Territory continued to air their podcastBirds Eye View despite the lockdown.
8 April. Prisoners arriving in Queensland prisons were from then placed in solitary confinement for two weeks. All prisoners would be tested when entering and leaving prison. Only essential prison and health staff would be allowed to enter the establishments.
26 March. Prison visits were suspended in Queensland.
25 March. Prison visits were suspended in the North Territory.
23 March. Prison visits were suspended in Eastern Australia.
22 March. Prison visits were suspended in the Canberra district.
21 March. Prison visits were suspended in the State of Victoria and in Tasmania.
20 March. Prison visits were suspended in Western Australia. Prisoners received additional phone credit.
19 March. The state of New South Wales suspended all visits until further notice. It announced that it would provide 600 tablets for prisoners to carry out their visits via videoconference.
Appeals and recommendations
27 May. The coalition of NGOs Change the record invited federal and State governments to take into account the situation of incarcerated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The coalition recommended releasing all Aboriginal prisoners who were not considered dangerous, as well as elderly, seriously ill and underage people, not to mention those awaiting trial. It requested that their rights to justice, the maintenance of family ties, adapted psychiatric care and education be guaranteed. According to the coalition, the legal system should rapidly undergo structural reforms to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
15 April. Human Rights Watch compared the coronavirus to “a ticking time bomb for Australia’s prisons”. The organisation was particularly worried about the situation of prisoners with disabilities, who were regularly subjected to privations and assaults. It called for the release of persons in temporary detention and those sentenced for non violent offences, as well as the safeguarding of prisoners’ mental and physical well being.
5 April. The human rights commissioner of the State of Queensland and Amnesty International Indigenous declared they were concerned about the massive incarceration of minors and the toughening of criminal policies towards them. They called for the rapid release of minors and the adoption of ambitious social policies to protect them from the coronavirus epidemic. The vast majority of incarcerated adolescents are of Aboriginal origin and come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
22 May. A field hospital with 33 beds has been constructed in a warehouse of the Long Bay prison in Sydney, in case of a virus outbreak. New South Wales authorities said that they had begun planning and implementing preventive strategies since mid-January.
20 April. Tests are being carried out systematically on new inmates at Silverwater’s Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre near Sydney, the first port of call for many inmates.
1 May A Supreme Court judge orders the government of Victoria and G4S, company that runs Port Phillip prison, to improve the preventative measures in the prison following a complaint from a prisoner.
22 April Tasmania prison services have converted their prison textile workshops into protective mask production centres. More than a thousand have already been produced.
31 March Federal health authorities publish guidelines for correctional and detention facilities that specify the preventative and quarantine measures to take when a prisoner is suspected of being infected.
The Federal Health Minister announced the incorporation of private hospitals into the public health service for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prisoners who are infected or ill will be sent to the private hospitals.
Members of prison staff and prisoners were tested, in the State of Queensland, as a precautionary measure. The authorities in South Australia have developed crisis strategies to manage a potential spread of the coronavirus in prison. The State of Queensland and Western Australia announced the creation of special units to manage the situation.
A third of the 43,000 people incarcerated in the country suffer from a chronic disease such as diabetes.
Acts of protest
13 May. Around twenty inmates from the Darwin prison in the North Territory protested against social distancing measures. They escaped from their cells and climbed on the roof of the prison. They lit fires which damaged 3 buildings and destroyed one. Damage was estimated at several million dollars. Over 100 officers and policemen were mobilized to control the riot. At least two prisoners were injured including one bitten by a dog.
7 May Three prisoners die in the space of four days in Woodford and Wolston prisons in Queensland. Two of them were found with evidence of self-harm. Investigations are underway. Debbie Kilroy, of the NGO Sisters Inside, is worried about the psychological pressure as a result of the lockdown.
13 April. Protests occurred in the Wellington and Goulburn prisons in New South Wales. Guards quelled the protest movement with gas.
6 April. Prisoners took to the roof of the privately run Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre , protesting against the suspension of visits to Queensland prisons. The prison commissioner directed the lockdown of all State facilities in order to prevent further disruptive behavior.
28 March. Two prisoners set fire to their cell in the high security wing of the Cessnock prison (New South Wales). They protested against the imposed restrictions. The suspension of visits would reduce, according to officials, the circulation of drugs and increasing tensions.
11 May The UN program Sisters Inside FreeHer, helped to obtain the conditional release of 125 female prisoners held since the onset of the pandemic. The organisation paid for their bail, finds accommodation and provided material and psychological support.
1 May. Former detention centre Maribyrnong in Melbourne will be converted in order to temporarily house homeless prisoners released from jail during the coronavirus pandemic. Sex offenders will not be allowed access to this last-resort accommodation. The site will have 24-hour security and supervision. The first residents could move in by June.
25 March. Several dozens of prisoners form the North Territory classified as “non dangerous” were about to be released.
22 March. Several hundreds of prisoners from New South Wales had to be released quickly. Several Aborigine organisations welcomed this decision with relief but requested more ambitious measures. Aborigenes, who only account for 2.5% of the Australian population, represent 27.4% of the prison population. They are also at a highest risk of suffering from a number of health conditions.
5 May. The federal government gave $63.3 million in emergency funding for the justice system. The endowment aimed to combat domestic violence and support its digital development.
15 May. Corrections Services and the Judiciary planned to have court hearings for inmates by video-conference. The prisons had recently installed the Skype program in order to allow prisoners to have contact with their families or lawyer without having to meet them in person.
22 April. The coalition for human rights in the Fiji islands regretted the death, on 14 April, of an inmate in the Suva prison. The death appears to be the result of brutality by security officers. The coalition called on law enforcement authorities to prevent emergency measures taken to deal with the pandemic being an excuse for human rights violations. Four correction officers were charged with murder.
14 April. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)donated the prison administration 200 boxes of gloves, sanitary products, hydroalcoholic gel and soap.
19 March. Prison visits were suspended.
5 May. A sum of two million dollars, from a contingency budget specially voted in the context of the fight against the coronavirus, was allocated to the prison system.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
21 April. Prison authorities reported they had started to distribute masks to the 600 island prisoners. Each Mangilao detainee received one. Hagåtña prison detainees received two each. The authorities were preparing to distribute a sufficient quantity of hygiene products.
The number of prison admissions dropped from 11 to 4 per day between February and April.
8 April. The prison administration affirmed they provided prisoners with the necessary hygiene and cleaning products. A relative of a prisoner denounced the inconsistency of official statements with the reality: “prisoners did not even have toilet paper, and even less cleaning products or other hygiene products”. The cancellation of the visits deprived prisoners of their source of receiving hygienic products from their families. He added that “the guards had to provide their own masks and gloves. Most of them did not even wear them until today”.
14 March. The Federal Public Defender recommended that infected prisoners be isolated within hospitals and that only prisoners classified as “violent” should now remain in custody. He asked the prison authorities to provide soap and disinfecting products to prisoners. He raised concerns that prison overcrowding and lack of hygiene would only further the spread of the virus.
6 April. A member of the prison staff tested positive for COVID-19 after spending a week at Mangilao prison. The penitentiary staff of the island ensured that guards were wearing gloves and masks in detention. Religious visits and services were suspended. Incoming prisoners would be isolated and their temperatures would be taken. Travel would be limited to the strict minimum.
3 May. The ban on weekly prison visits has been lifted. The government lifted most restrictions after having declared that the archipelago was free of the coronavirus.
27 March. Visits to the Arorangi Prison, the only one of the Islands, were suspended. Detainees and wardens are taking part in a cleaning and rubbish-management campaign aimed at helping with the coronavirus response and preventing the spread of dengue fever.
13 May. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) donated 116 boxes of soap, 85 litres of liquid detergent, 45 litres of chlorine, 20 litres of sanitary products and 27 bottles of hand sanitiser to prison authorities.
31 March. The Correctional Service Solomon Islands (CSSI) received nine mobile phones and 500 prepaid cards from the International Committee of the Red Cross to be distributed to prisoners. Visits to prisons have been curtailed since 23 March.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 1 — source
9 May A woman was detained for 10 days for refusing to be tested upon her return from the United States. She tested positive the day after leaving Auckland prison. Prison administration reported that two of its staff tested positive for coronavirus and have since recovered. They had had no contact with prisoners.
Contact with the outside world
13 May. The prison administration resumed visits to prisons by family, lawyers, volunteers and researchers. Thermal cameras have been set up at prison entrances to prevent visitors with temperatures over 38°C from entering. Visitors are asked to wash their hands regularly and to wear a mask. Some social distancing measures are still in place to limit the number of visitors in one area.
Corrections would continue to issue phone cards to prisoners weekly during the lockdown. Prisoners and their loved ones were being encouraged to use email and video calling.
6 April. Prisoners were still confined to their cells for 20 to 23 hours a day. Some prisons, such as Spring Hill, no longer accepted packages from the outside.
Acts of protest
8 May Correctional officers have complained about an increase in spitting attacks.
Appeals and recommendations
24 April. The Chief Ombudsman said that prison administration was attempting to “discourage” him from accessing prisons. He was concerned about the effects of confinement in prison, at a time when prisoners were being kept in their cells most hours of the day.
17 April. The organisation Just Speak worried about requests for the General Lawyer and the latest measures taken by the prison administration. It warned about the denial of prisoners’ rights and the danger that these measures represented for some of them. It called on New Zealand citizens to contact and put pressure on their legislative representatives and on government authorities.
16 April. Solicitor-General Una Jagose requested the judicial authorities to oppose the release on bail and the adjustment of the sentence of prisoners tested positive or suspected of being infected. She also asked to refuse the early releases of people whose accommodation was located in an environment deemed to be at risk.
16 April. Hearings were suspended until 31 July.
11 April. Eight foreign prisoners due to leave New Zealand remained imprisoned in spite of their sentence reduction or being at the end of their sentence. They would remain in the archipelago’s prisons until early May, as requested by prison administration.
19 March. Researchers and prison staff fear the arrival of coronavirus in New Zealand prisons. Several suspected cases isolated in Waikeria and Rotorua prisons have tested negative.
The Prison Service had implemented certain health precautionary measures last year during a measles outbreak at Mt Eden prison and Auckland prison for women.
Papua New Guinea
30 April. The Corrections Commissioner announced the forthcoming liberation of 100 elderly, sick or considered low-risk prisoners in order to ease the overcrowding in 20 prisons and police stations. The country’s prisons, which have a total capacity of 4 000 places, are occupied by over 50,000 inmates. Protective measures and social distancing cannot be enforced. The fear of the pandemic weighed on the inmates and staff equally. The Commissioner did not exclude, if the situation was to worsened, to “get everyone out”.
8 April. The government repatriated 60 Papuan national prisoners in the Indonesian prisons of ** Doyo Baru ** (Jayapura) and Bolangi (Sulawesi). They would be placed in isolation upon arrival in the territory.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
7 May. A private company and local politicians delivered hygienic products at Buimo prison. The head of the prison indicated that barrier gestures were impossible to apply.
25 April. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) distributed masks for 700 prisoners and 200 staff members at Bomana prison. The organisation also financed the repair of the water network of the Mount Hagen police station. It sent hygienic products to those of Tari, Wabag, Mendi and to the prison of Bui Lebi. The Buka police station and the Beikut and Kerevat prisons in Bougainville received a month’s supply of hygienic and sanitary products.
24 March. Prisoners who show symptoms had to be kept in cells. Suffering staff were invited to stay at home. Chloroquine was prescribed for those with fever. Any suspicious case was transferred to the sectorial hospital. The country’s medical personnel, on strike for more than a month, warned on its lack of means.
Contact with the outside world
1 May. Visits were gradually urged to resume. Prisoners usually relied on their loved ones to obtain basic hygiene supplies and food.
24 March. Visits, temporary absences and religious services were suspended. Facilities were subject to a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. during which entrances and exits were prohibited. Visits of relatives of prison staff and deliveries were controlled.
19 March. While cases of malaria and typhoid fever had been documented, prisons were preparing for the coronavirus epidemic. The prison administration announced complete isolation of facilities. Each new entry was tested upon admission. Visits were suspended until further notice. The administration was preparing to recruit new caregivers, with the assistance of the Ministry of Health.
8 May. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provided sanitary and hygienic products for the 300 people detained in Tanumalala prison.
6 May Authorities have decided to resume visits to Tunamalala and Vaiaata prisons. However, relatives must apply at a police station a week in advance of each visit.
20 March The government declares a state of emergency. Prison visits have been suspended. Visits to police stations, where people are held in custody or custodial remand, are limited to one person at a time.
24 March. About 20 inmates escaped from the new Tanumalala prison. The prison administration, for which this was the second escape incident in four months, was taken over by the police.
Samoa had so far no declared coronavirus cases, but the archipelago was deeply marked by a recent measles outbreak in 2018-2019.
18 March. Visits to all correctional facilities are suspended. Mobile phones were allocated to prisoners. Relatives are no longer allowed to give food to inmates.
Inmates suspected of being contaminated are to be sheltered in place and diverted to the Health medical team. Hygiene kits have been distributed in all correctional facilities. A bus service dedicated to transporting prison staff between their homes and workplace has been set up to avoid contact with the public.
The governments of New Zealand, Australian and Solomon Islands, as well as international organisations including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have offered assistance to the prison administration in order to prevent the spread of the epidemic.