COVID-19 update from Chief Inspector

Message from Janis Adair, Chief Inspector

24 April, 2020

During these unprecedented times of the COVID-19 emergency, Inspectors of Corrections, as operationally independent and objective observers, play a critical role in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of people in the care of the Department of Corrections.

Visits to prisons by Inspectors were paused while measures were put in place to ensure the safety of all involved. With the approval of the Chief Executive, visits will resume next week (week beginning 27 April 2020). The visits will be short and focused, targeting high risk and vulnerable populations within the prison environment. The purpose of the visits is to ensure prisoners are being managed safely and humanely and in accordance with the Corrections Act and Corrections regulations.

The Office of the Inspectorate was proactive and worked at pace to prepare for, and transition to, a new way of working during the COVID-19 emergency to ensure continuity of service provision. Enhancements were made to our operations to ensure the Inspectorate remained accessible to prisoners. My aim, at all times, has been to demonstrate openness, integrity, a strong desire to build resilience and a best practice approach. I appreciate there is a need to strike the right balance between protecting prisoners from the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring that their rights are not being disproportionately and unnecessarily restricted.

Prisons, by their nature, are places where people are in close contact with each other and unable to leave. Given the close confinement, careful measures must be taken to mitigate against the transmission of infection. While international human rights law allows for emergency measures to be taken in response to significant threats, these measures must be proportionate to the evaluated risk, necessary and respectful to human dignity.

The Department of Corrections has introduced measures designed to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in the prison network. Details here. To date, there have been no cases of COVID-19 in prison. The new processes have understandably led to an increase in the length of time prisoners have been spending locked in their cells.

Given the importance of communication, I have written an ‘open letter’ to all prisoners explaining the Inspectorate’s role and what we are doing to ensure their fair treatment. I have also written to all Prison Directors to outline our processes.

The number of inspectors available to respond to complaints and issues raised has been doubled, and the Inspectorate moved to a seven day a week operation from the first week of lockdown. Additionally, my clinical inspectors (who are registered nurses) have contacted all prison health centre managers to explain the change in processes and hear their concerns. This engagement remains ongoing.

While this is for us and many others across the world, unchartered territory, we are committed to ensuring that prisoners are treated in a fair, safe, secure and humane way, despite the many challenges we face as a result of the global crisis. These principles are, and must always be, non-negotiable.