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Review of court and prison system urgently needed

  • Government has a duty of care to keep all Tasmanians safe, including inmates and staff
  • Courts and tribunals must defer appropriate, non-urgent cases
  • Technology must be used in the wider justice system

The operation of Tasmania’s prison and court systems must be reviewed in light of coronavirus risks.

Shadow Corrections Minister Ella Haddad said other jurisdictions are already looking at ways to reduce the risk of an outbreak of the virus in custodial settings.

“For example, New South Wales has announced emergency powers giving the corrections minister authority to release or parole inmates who are nearing the end of their sentence and who do not present a threat to the community,” Ms Haddad said.

“Other jurisdictions are looking at similar measures and Tasmania must do the same.

“These are extraordinary times and all institutions must adapt to deliver their services in a way that makes protecting public health the first priority. 

“At a time when public health experts are advising that social distancing is essential to slow the spread of coronavirus, we need to extend those measures to include our overcrowded correctional system.

“History tells us that prisons are commonly epicentres for infectious diseases and we know that Risdon Prison and other Tasmanian correctional facilities are already operating at or near capacity.

“This makes it very difficult to contain the spread of coronavirus within the prison population and protect staff and inmates.”

Ms Haddad said the state’s wider justice system should follow the lead of New South Wales and defer cases that do not involve someone in custody.

“It is a good start that jury trials in the Tasmanian Supreme Court are temporarily suspended, but more needs to be done to assess other operations of the Supreme Court and the operation of the Magistrates Court and tribunals.

“We also call on judges and magistrates to consider bail as a first option for non-violent offenders who would otherwise be put at unnecessary risk by being incarcerated in light of coronavirus.

“We further call on them to provide support for government and community workers who supervise people on bail, on parole and in home detention to do so remotely as much as possible.

“We are fortunate that technology is available to help achieve this for many of our court proceedings.

“Other jurisdictions are considering these measures in these unprecedented times and we need to do the same.”

Ella Haddad
Shadow Minister for Corrections