Mandating COVID jabs for prison officers in NSW not enough, PSA says

By Melissa Coade

Tuesday September 21, 2021

Parklea Correctional Centre in Sydney.
Parklea Correctional Centre in Sydney. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

A mandate for all prison officers in New South Wales to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has been welcomed by the Public Service Association (PSA), which also wants the requirement to be extended to the entire prison population.

PSA general secretary Stewart Little said that the union expected mandatory vaccinations be adopted across the state’s justice system — to also include prisoners — and that inmates who declined to be vaccinated should be subject to similar restrictions faced by unvaccinated members of the public.

The risk of transmission within the ‘highly transient’ prison populations was higher in penitentiaries, Little added.

“Mandatory vaccinations just for prison officers is a job half done,” Little said.

“To keep NSW jails safe from COVID-19 everyone in the justice system needs to be vaccinated, no excuses.”

“There are some 30,000 people in the justice system currently. The public need to understand the population is always fluctuating and can be quite transient – for any one person in prison there’s another on remand or out on bail,” he said. 

The union has already written to NSW counter terrorism and corrections minister Anthony Roberts asking for a commitment that vaccines would be mandated for inmates. It also wants the government to ensure that those prisoners who are not fully vaccinated do not get to enjoy the same privileges as their vaccinated peers, as is the case in the free community. 

“We want to see vaccinations offered to people as soon as they enter custody,” Little said.

“If they refuse, well then they’re going to have to be separated from the rest of the general inmate population – that means they can’t go into minimum security, can’t get a job in the workshops, and face restrictions on visitors.”

Little said the PSA supported the decision by Acting Commissioner Kevin Corcoran last week to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all prison officers. Under the commissioner’s order, all officers must have received their first dose by the end of October, 2021 and their second dose by the end of January next year. 

He went on to stress that the union’s position was not punatative and, in fact, aimed to make the community safer too.

“Getting people in the criminal justice system jabbed isn’t just going to make our prisons safer, it means those who might have done their time and then head home into a regional community will be vaccinated,” Little said. 

“The prison population is also made up of a lot of people with poor health – the rate of hepatitis is about 4 times that of what you find in the general population. This would be an effective public health measure that takes in a lot of marginalised people.

“By the end of October every prison officer will have gotten their first jab, it’s right that inmates should be given the same opportunity,” he added.

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