Calls for the early release of prisoners to prevent the spread of COVID-19

[by David Mejia-Canales]


Image: supplied

The Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA) has joined the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal Services (NATSILS) in jointly supporting the demands to release imprisoned First Nations people in a historic open letter authored by ten families who have had loved ones die in custody, along with community members with family in prison.

“Governments must listen to the voices of these courageous families who have banded together to prevent COVID-19 black deaths in custody. The families are calling for the immediate release of First Nations people from prison. An outbreak in prisons is imminent and our health system will not be able to cope.” said Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of NATSILS.

AIDA has highlighted the significance of the health impact on our communities and the importance of early detection, prevention and culturally appropriate healthcare. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 because of the high levels of chronic disease endured by our people, inadequate housing and environmental health infrastructure and the lack of culturally appropriate healthcare.


As Indigenous doctors, AIDA holds grave concerns for the conditions in prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic. AIDA fully supports NATSILS call to Governments to make every effort to prevent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody due to COVID-19.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons throughout Australia already have compromised health conditions, and we must protect them from this virus, as well as prevent its spread to our communities, AIDA President, Dr Kris Rallah-Baker, said.


“It’s essential that the government listens to our families. We need priority testing and appropriate medical care for First Nations people who have symptoms or are suspected of having COVID-19. There also needs to be widespread testing where there have been positive cases. The longer governments wait to act, the worse this will be, more lives will be lost,” said Nerita Waight, co-chair of NATSILS.


NATSILS wrote to the Federal and all State and Territory Attorneys General, Minister for Corrections and Commissioner for Corrections with its policy positions three weeks ago but is not aware of any people from prison being released by Governments.


“COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in prisons overseas. Many people in custody as well as corrections officers have already contracted the virus and died. The United Kingdom, Canada, Indonesia, Germany and the United States have already released people to contain the spread of the virus. We must follow their example to prevent any COVID-19 black deaths in custody.”


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