Allegations of mishandling and cover-up of the COVID situation in Parklea Prison, resulting in a systemic crisis in NSW prisons have emerged.
A fast growing COVID cluster in the NSW prison system is said by families of inmates to have been inevitable.
Family members of inmates, communicating through social media groups dedicated to discussing issues in prisons have spoken out, claiming that information that is reaching mainstream media is sanitised and designed to fit a government narrative.
In an article published on August 28 by the Sydney Morning Herald, Labor’s spokeswoman Tara Moriarty is said to have stated “I’m particularly concerned that the prison seems to be trying to keep details of the outbreak secret”. This has been backed up by family members who have spoken out.
Parklea Prison, which is run by MTC-Broadspectrum, a joint venture between Management & Training Corporation and Broadspectrum publicly announced COVID infections in the prison on the 27th of August. However, in a post distributed on a private social media group on the 24th of August, it is apparent the prison was aware of the outbreak at least three days earlier.
It is claimed that Parklea used the 3 days between discovery of COVID cases and reporting to secretly transfer prisoners out of Parklea to other prisons.
An inmate from Parklea managed to get the following message to a family member on 24 August.
“When the governor Paul [Baker] came into the pod the inmates were asking about COVID related stuff and at that time he said ‘there are four inmates with COVID and they are trying to move them from the jail as quick (sic) as they can.’”
The inmate also said that Parklea transferred two inmates knowing they had COVID and did not mention it in any of their paperwork.
Prisoners who had tested positive were transported along with prisoners who were negative triggering what is likely to be super-spreading throughout the entire prison system.
In further statements, it is claimed that inmates with cleaning duties are cleaning areas of potential COVID infection and have not been provided with any kind of personal protective equipment, including masks.
Loved ones of inmates are concerned about the secrecy around COVID in the state’s prisons. Currently, prisoners are locked in their cells and not even allowed the basic one hour of exercise a day and one phone call that is afforded to prisoners in isolation, a situation they say is grossly inhumane.
Fears of compounding mental health and other medical issues have been raised as needing to be urgently addressed. On Wednesday of this week information was leaked from Silverwater MRRC that at least one inmate had attempted suicide due to the situation.
Calls have been made to release remand and minimum security prisoners, along with those with medical conditions, into custody in the community, possibly with ankle trackers.
Corrective Services NSW was contacted for comment regarding the allegations that have been made in this article.
While the issues raised were not addressed specifically, Corrective Services NSW provided the following statement about the current situation in NSW prisons.
Statement from Corrective Services NSW
“The safety of all staff and inmates is our number one priority while we continue to follow the expert advice of NSW Health and Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network (JH&FMHN) in our decision-making processes.
“All NSW prisons are continuing to take extra precautions after inmates, who may have been exposed to the virus, were recently transferred out of Parklea Correctional Centre to 23 other prisons.
“All inmates were isolated and tested for COVID-19 by JH&FMHN and have returned negative results.
“A negative result means the inmate is not infectious but will remain isolated for 14 days based on NSW Health advice.
“As of today (Wednesday, 1 September), 19 correctional centres have been cleared to return to normal COVID-19 restricted routine.
“Corrective Services NSW is taking every precaution to protect staff and inmates and prevent transmission of the virus.
“We are introducing rapid antigen screening across the state for staff and inmates to boost our frontline defences.”
Statement from MTC-Broadspectrum
A further statement from an MTC-Broadspectrum spokesperson regarding the situation in Parklea Prison was also provided.
“The safety of all staff and inmates is our number one priority.
“Parklea Correctional Centre is taking appropriate health and safety measures after a number of inmates were diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past month.
“Sixteen positive inmates were transferred to the isolation hub at the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre at Silverwater on the same day of their diagnosis. The other cases are being cared for at Parklea.
“We have a rigorous testing regime in place for staff and inmates to identify any COVID cases in the prison and provide inmates who test positive with appropriate care.
“In addition to testing all new receptions, we have now tested all inmates to ensure we identify any COVID cases in the prison. Our healthcare provider St Vincent’s will continue to do so to check for any further cases.
“It is a requirement for our employees to be tested every 72 hours, and St Vincent’s provides on-site testing for staff three times a week to ensure they have easy access to testing facilities. Further testing has been undertaken since the weekend.
“Doctors and nurses from St Vincent’s are providing health checks and the required care to inmates who have tested positive.
“The affected inmates have been isolated and an investigation into the source of the infection is underway.
“Due to the number of inmates with the virus, NSW Health has asked St Vincent’s to continue to prioritise vaccinating inmates.
“We have also stepped up the level of cleaning resources to ensure all cells and areas impacted are deep cleaned.
“As a precaution, the main prison at Parklea Correctional Centre has been locked down.
“Staff who have had contact with the positive cases have been directed to go for immediate COVID-19 testing and to isolate.
“We continue to follow the expert advice of NSW Health, St Vincent’s Health Network and the Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network in our decision-making processes.”
Tara Moriarty’s office was also approached for a statement.
We intend to keep monitoring details around this story as it develops. If you have anything you wish to contribute to this story please make contact.