COVID-19: Amnesty International urges for action to stop spread of the virus in prisons

Currently there are 220 active cases in New Zealand prisons.
Currently there are 220 active cases in New Zealand prisons. Photo credit: File

Amnesty International wants urgent action to curb the spread of COVID-19 in jails, including delayed jail time, bringing forward parole eligibility and prioritising community sentences.

Currently there are 220 active cases in prisons. At least 50 of them at Auckland prison where inmates claim they are facing extended lockdowns and missing out on mental health services due to staff shortages.

This week Amnesty - and JustSpeak and People Against Prisons Aotearoa - wrote to the Chief Justice and half a dozen ministers and top justice officials asking for immediate changes.

The campaign's director, Lisa Woods, said people in prison are particularly vulnerable to COVID since they "do not have the same autonomy and opportunities to protect themselves as others do".

She said this is not the first time concerns have been raised.

"Concerns about raising minimum entitlements were first raised back in 2020 and Corrections was asked for information on this and through this process it was brought to light that records were not being kept properly."

Woods said they listed a range of recommendations.

"So everything from denying recall to prison applications for breaches of release conditions that do not involve undue risk to the public to ensuring equitable access to PPE, ensuring proper sanitation and good ventilation, so quite a range of measures."

Woods said when COVID-19 first emerged in 2020 the UN Commissioner for Human Rights urged governments to reduce the number of people in detention and look at ways of releasing those particularly vulnerable to Covid and low risk offenders.

"The toll that COVID can take both mentally and physically is enormous and it just cannot be emphasized enough how important it is that Corrections is ensuring access to health services, this just must be an absolute priority."