No plan to separate inmates; 65% vaxed

With 65% of its prisoners fully vaccinated, the Department of Corrections has no plans to separate vaccinated and unvaccinated inmates at Invercargill Prison.

The Otago Corrections Facility is slightly ahead of its southern counterpart with just under 70% of prisoners fully vaccinated.

However, all visitors will need to be fully vaccinated by the end of next week.

Information released last week showed as of November 21, 87 of the 115 prisoners at Invercargill Prison had received their first dose, and of those, 75 prisoners were fully vaccinated.

At the Otago Corrections Facility in Milburn, 268 prisoners had received their first dose, while 235 had received their second dose, as of November 28.

There are about 340 prisoners at the facility though the number fluctuates daily.

Chief custodial officer Neil Beales said the priority of the Corrections Department was the safety of inmates, staff and visitors.

"As we have seen in prisons internationally, the impact of Covid-19 can be devastating.’’

Since March last year, Corrections had taken "extensive measures’’ to keep the virus out of prisons, he said.

It included separating every person for their first 14 days in custody, inmates undergoing routine testing on arrival and on days 5 and 12, and on days 3, 7 and 12 for any identified close contacts.

"To date we have managed 50 cases of Covid-19 [nationally] with no known transmission between prisoners or staff.’’

As New Zealand moved to a minimisation and protection approach under the new traffic light system, Corrections would continue to maintain a zero-tolerance approach, he said.

The measures under the new system would be very similar to what it had done so far, but work was under way on changes to reflect the protection offered by vaccination, including the addition of a risk assessment process to ensure activities such as release to work could operate safely.

"As we will maintain our measures to keep Covid-19 out of prisons, including separating and testing people coming into custody, we have no plans to separate vaccinated and unvaccinated prisoners at this time.’’

However, all private visitors to prisons would need to be fully vaccinated before Friday.

This decision was not taken lightly and he believed requiring visitors to be vaccinated lessened the potential risk of the virus being introduced to prisons.

"We acknowledge the significant impact it has for people in prison with unvaccinated friends and whanau.’’

He was pleased, however, that of the 112 staff at Invercargill Prison, only three were not fully vaccinated yet.

That meant the mandate did not have a "significant impact’’ on staffing levels.

"One staff member has received their first dose, and two staff members have been placed on special leave as they have not been vaccinated.

"Ultimately, we take our duty of care to people in prison and the wellbeing of our staff seriously, and we must act to prevent them from the very serious harm that Covid-19 poses.’’

As of last Friday, 306 staff members (out of a total of 327) at the Otago Corrections Facility were fully vaccinated and 12 staff members had received their first dose. Ten staff members had not received the vaccine and had subsequently been placed on paid special leave.

Staff who are yet to receive a vaccination continue to have the opportunity until Wednesday to be fully vaccinated and comply with the Public Health Order.

luisa.girao@odt.co.nz

 

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