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QLS calls for vaccination timeline for prisoners

Queensland Law Society has called on the State Government to provide a timeline for the provision of COVID-19 vaccination for one of society’s most vulnerable groups – prisoners and children in detention.

QLS Vice President Kara Thomson this week wrote to Health Minister Yvette D’Ath seeking clarification on when prisoners and children in detention would be placed within the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

“Currently, prisoners are not identified in the COVID-19 vaccine national rollout strategy nor in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout stages published on Queensland Health’s website,” Ms Thomson said.

“People in prisons and detention facilities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 … (and) tend to have poorer physical and mental health than the general population, elevating the risks associated with COVID-19.”

Queensland’s Prisoners Legal Service (PLS), a not-for-profit community legal centre that provides free assistance to prisoners, says the threat of infection to prisoners is so serious it has asked the State Government to release as many prisoners as possible to improve health, medical and welfare services.

“PLS is very conscious of the impact of COVID-19 on the prison population in Queensland,” a statement on its website says. “We are advocating with the State Government to release as many prisoners as possible.’’

Ms Thomson’s letter, which was also sent to the Ministers for Police and Corrective Services Mark Ryan, Children and Youth Justice Leanne Linard and Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman on Monday 12 July, highlighted the fact that almost one-third of people entering prison have chronic medical conditions such as asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes, or live with disability.

“A significant number of people in prisons are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who also suffer from higher rates of chronic health issues than non-Indigenous people,” Ms Thomson said.

“The significant rates of morbidity within the Australian prison population place them at risk of complications and compromised health, and a COVID-19 outbreak in this context would have severe consequences.

“Prison populations also face an increased risk of transmission due to close living arrangements and an inability to socially distance and isolate or quarantine.

“These conditions make outbreaks difficult to prevent and control. An outbreak of COVID-19 within a prison presents a risk to the broader community, as corrective services employees and people cycling through the criminal justice system risk carrying the disease from the prison into the community.”

The Queensland Government has yet to respond.


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