NSW prison officers will need to get their first vaccine dose by the end of next month if they want to keep working – but a union says the mandate should go further and extend to prisoners as well.
The Public Service Association threw its support behind the jab mandate for prison staff, which was decided this week by acting Corrective Services commissioner Kevin Corcoran.
But the PSA said the mandate didn’t go far enough and called for prisoners who refuse a jab to be separated from the rest of the inmate population.
“Mandatory vaccinations just for prison officers is a job half done. To keep NSW jails safe from Covid-19, everyone in the justice system needs to be vaccinated, no excuses,” PSA general secretary Stewart Little said.
“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.”
There are currently 105 Covid-positive prisoners who are being cared for by NSW Health.
The Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network said 70 per cent of all inmates have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and 35 per cent have been fully vaccinated.
The proportion of Corrective Services staff with one jab is slightly lower, at 65 per cent as of last Sunday. Forty-six per cent of prison staff have been fully vaccinated.
Justice Health said all inmates and detainees in public prisons and youth detention had been offered vaccines since March, but human rights advocates say it has been difficult for prisoners to access the jabs.
“We are currently undertaking a major vaccination program to ensure the coverage is as high as possible across these settings,” a Justice Health spokeswoman said.
Parklea Correctional Centre, one of NSW’s few privately operated jails, has been the site of the state’s largest prison outbreak, with 144 virus cases recorded since its outbreak began in late August.
Privately managed prisons are responsible for managing their own vaccination roll out, but Justice Health provides them the doses and information about administering them.
Multiple families of Parklea inmates have told NCA NewsWire their relatives weren’t offered vaccines until after the virus was detected in the prison.
The Public Service Association wants any prisoners who refuse to get vaccinated to be separated from the rest of the inmates.
“That means they can’t go into minimum security, can’t get a job in the workshops, and face restrictions on visitors,” Mr Little said.
He compared it to the requirement on the general NSW population to get double-jabbed if they want to go to the pub or hairdresser in future.
“Inside NSW jails, despite it being one of the highest risk settings you can think of, there is no distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated inmates,” Mr Little said.
“We want to see vaccinations offered to people as soon as they enter custody. If they refuse, well then they’re going to have to be separated from the rest of the general inmate population.”
Mr Corcoran told a parliamentary inquiry on Friday that incoming prisoners are routinely quarantined for 14 days before being allowed to mix with the rest of the inmates.
He also said rapid Covid-19 testing had been implemented and prisoners who test positive are promptly isolated.
“Our staff is on the front line of this pandemic, just as much as the more visible emergency services workers, and they’ve been doing a magnificent job in a very difficult situation,” he told the inquiry into the state government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Corcoran said Corrective Services had told staff they need to be vaccinated by October 25.
“They will have to go on leave until they get vaccinated, unless they have an appointment to get a vaccination by November 8,” he said.