NSW prisoners could be freed in bid to halt coronavirus spread

| 24.03,20. 04:00 PM |

NSW prisoners could be freed in bid to halt coronavirus spread



PHOTO: Any prisoners released would face strict parole conditions. (ABC News: Alkira Reinfrank)


Some of the state's 14,000 prisoners could be released as the NSW Government steps up its response to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin could be allowed to grant parole to certain inmates based on the threat of COVID-19 under proposed laws to be considered by Parliament.

The extraordinary powers would apply to low-risk and vulnerable prisoners, who would be subject to strict parole conditions.

That would include home detention, electronic monitoring and a pre-arranged schedule of movements.

Introducing the bill to Parliament today, Attorney-General Mark Speakman said it was designed to protect the health of inmates and staff.

"The bill seeks to provide us with powers we'll hope we never have to use but the evolution of the pandemic may require it," he said.

"This flexibility is needed to give the commissioner the capacity to protect the health of inmates and correctional services staff and ensure the good order and security of correctional premises through the emergency."

Vulnerable inmates include the elderly or those with a pre-existing medical condition, while the nature of the offence committed and the time left on a sentence would also be considered.

Those serving sentences for murder, terrorism or a serious sex offence will not be eligible for early release, nor will those serving a life sentence for any other serious offence.

Before making such an order, the commissioner will have to assess the risk to community safety and check whether the prisoner has been convicted of domestic violence charges.

The COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill also allows the pre-recording of evidence to reduce the number of people having to attend courts across the state.

According to figures released by the Bureau of Crime Statistics in February, the number of people in jail across the state rose by almost 500 people last year to nearly 14,000.

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