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March 21, 2023

Prisons close doors to personal visitors

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Regardless of the crime, many of those in the country’s prisons are allowed visits from loved ones – a situation which promotes mental health on both sides of the bars.

Following the National Cabinet Meeting last Friday, a joint decision has been made to suspend all personal visits to adult correctional facilities across Australia over the coming weeks.

Individual jurisdictions will decide when the new measure will be introduced based on their operational needs.

A Corrective Services NSW spokeswoman said this decision has not been made lightly and responds to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation and state and federal health measures.

‘Corrective Services NSW suspended visits on 16 March to ensure the safety of our staff and inmates, which is our number one priority.’

Visits will recommence when it’s safe

‘Visits will recommence as soon as it is safe to do so, and we will continue to follow the advice of the Chief Health Officer, and federal and state authorities.’

The Corrective Services representative says the organisation recognises that contact visits are important to inmates and their loved ones. ‘We are looking at ways to ensure family communication is maintained.

‘We are currently exploring options to increase the use of audio-visual links for family and legal visits, as well as court appearances.’

Corrective Services Industries is manufacturing 20 ‘pop-up’ audio-visual studios to add to the existing 107 video-conferencing studios and pop-ups already in the system.

CSNSW also has access to 600 computer tablets. ‘These were originally going to be rolled out to inmates later this year as part of a pilot to improve staff efficiency and encourage inmates to take greater personal responsibility,’ the spokeswoman said. ‘These could now be used to facilitate video-calls, in place of contact visits.’

A local family were told of the new restrictions last week when they tried to arrange a visit with their son who is in maximum security in Newcastle. The man has little access to anything apart from visits from his family who live on the Far North Coast.

A family connection lost

Echonetdaily spoke to a local family this morning about how the lockout is affecting them. ‘It actually sucks, but I am acutely aware of how important it is to stay away and keep the people in there safe.

‘Can you imagine what would happen if it went through the gaol?

‘Just visiting we all touch so many things to be processed before we see our son, and two weeks ago, nothing was being wiped before or after we touched them – we had soap and water in the car.

‘We fill out the forms, pass over licences, get finger scanned, eye scanned, electronically scanned, sometimes dog sniffed, more finger scans, assigned a table and wait.

‘Our son comes in, we visit for 90 minutes  Then go through the whole process again to leave.

‘We have to apply for a visit the Wednesday before we want to go. There’s no forward planning, that’s why we were only told last week.’

Mental health needed for rehabilitation

Part of the prison process is certainly punishment, but there is an element of rehabilitation as well, and inmates need to be mentally healthy for that process to work.

The family member said that they do worry for their son’s mental health as contact with loved ones is what keeps him going. ‘No one can understand this until it is their life – we can walk out.

‘All those guys are living it – in cells from 4pm to 8am – sometimes in lockdown for days with no explanation. Visiting families have it easy compared to them. Visits are the highlight of their week. Of their life!’

The Corrective Services NSW spokeswoman said at present, there are no confirmed cases of the virus within any of the correctional facilities.

Important to minimise COVID-19 in prisons

 ‘Like the rest of the community, it’s important we minimise all potential cases of COVID-19 in our prisons.

 ‘We’re receiving regular briefings from Justice Health and the Forensic Mental Health Network, and NSW Health, and following their expert advice’.

The local family wait in hope that communications with their son will find a new avenue soon. ‘Our son can still call us and I am actually writing a letter to him now.

‘I write lots of letters and send photos…’

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