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Push for Victorian prisoners to be released early amid fears jails will become COVID-19 hotbeds

3AW Mornings

Legal experts are pleading for the early release of thousands of Victorian prisoners amid fears jails could become hotbeds for COVID-19.

The push for some Victorian prisoners to be released early has ramped up after NSW last night passed legislation which allows the state’s Corrective Services Commissioner to make orders permitting prisoners to be freed early on parole because of the public health risk posed by coronavirus.

It comes after more than 370 lawyers signed an open letter calling on Australian states and territories to loosen bail conditions to allow low risk prisoners to be released early.

Criminal law professor at the University of Technology in Sydney, Thalia Anthony, said an outbreak in the prison system could be “absolutely devastating”.

“They’re so densely populated, and a lot of the inmates already have health problems.

“We’re locking up people for what would seem to be regulatory matters, such as driving or breach of justice orders … we need to think about whether that warrants what could be a death sentence.”

Ms Anthony said the early release of prisoners who are due to be released throughout the year could see a third of the prison population freed.

“We know that prisoners will be released over the course of this year while, I suspect, the pandemic is still very much in its ascendancy,” she said.

If an outbreak were to occur in a prison, it’s likely it would also impact the wider community.

“We have workers going in and out of prisons,” Ms Anthony said.

“If there’s an outbreak there then there going to be a flow on.”

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