Lockdown in Hunter Valley maximum security prison after virus outbreak

“Shortland Correctional Centre has the appropriate level of staffing to maintain essential operations.”

A spokesperson for Justice Health said there were 48 total active cases in custodial settings in NSW as of Tuesday, including 13 at Silverwater who had been transferred from Shortland.

“The [Justice Health] Network’s protocol is to move positive adult COVID-19 cases in publicly operated correctional centres to central locations at the Silverwater Correctional Complex, where they can be kept separate from the rest of the prison population, their care can be appropriately managed and they can be near tertiary health care facilities in case they are needed,” the spokesperson said.

Nicole Jess, chairperson of the prison officers’ vocation branch of the Public Service Association of NSW, said the union was very concerned about the outbreak but welcomed the proactive response of Corrective Services management.

She said the 80 staff forced into isolation accounted for a large percentage of the centre’s workforce and officers from other facilities had been brought in to assist.

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Ms Jess said the union was concerned about what could happen in prisons across the state if case numbers in the community climb significantly as public health orders are eased.

“Because the transmission coming in [to facilities] from the community is going to surge,” she said.

Prisons are considered a particularly high-risk environment for infections because of the number of vulnerable inmates and the limited ability to physically distance in custodial environments.

NSW prisoners’ families and advocates are currently mounting a Supreme Court bid to have acting Commissioner of Corrective Services Kevin Corcoran release some inmates under emergency powers introduced last year.

While Mr Corcoran has publicly indicated he is aiming to contain COVID-19 in prisons without releasing select prisoners on parole, he has identified eligible offenders and established the processes to assess and approve their release.

Corrective Services has also mandated vaccinations for prison officers and is aiming to boost lacklustre vaccination rates among inmates.

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