THE Department for Correctional Services (DCS) says there has been extensive planning to protect hundreds of inmates at the Mount Gambier Prison from the risk of COVID-19.
The health pandemic has already triggered the suspension of personal visits to the Mount Gambier correctional facility, which is part of statewide measure to protect South Australian prisoners.
There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the state prison system, according to the department mid last week.
The private Moorak-based facility – the second largest correctional facility in the state – houses 650 prisoners.
“The department’s number one priority now and going forward is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in South Australia, with the focus on preventing the disease from entering our prison system,” a department spokesperson said.
“Mount Gambier Prison has been planning extensively around contingencies for all eventualities.”
The department said it would take all preventative steps necessary to ensure the health and safety of prisons and community corrections environments, while prioritising and protecting staff, prisoners and offenders.
“Further intensive operational planning is under way giving consideration to our unique custodial and community corrections environments”, a spokesperson said.
A number of planning and leadership teams have been established across a range of critical areas.
These include ensuring the safety of staff working in prisons and in the community, business continuity, scenario and operational planning, inter-agency coordination and logistics, staff and stakeholder communication, human scenario planning and prisoner and family engagement and communication.
Regarding the suspension of visitors, the spokesperson said this would re-commence as soon as it was safe.
“The department will continue to follow the advice of Public Health as the lead agency and federal and state authorities,” the correctional spokesperson said.
“The department understands the importance of family and community connections for the wellbeing, rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners.”
The department also recognises the importance of staying connected to prisoners for family and friends.
“DCS is continuing to actively investigate alternative communication measures where viable and appropriate, including trialling video calls to ensure prisoners can maintain face-to-face contact with their family and friends,” a spokesperson said.
“The department has also currently suspended all programs as a precautionary step.”
The department is currently implementing a support strategy for its vulnerable prisoner population groups, such as prisoners with a disability, mental health concerns and aged and informed prisoners.
The department also continues to work nationally with corrections in other jurisdictions to share our planning and decisions to ensure our approach is considered, consistent and in line with best practice.
DCS continues to implement necessary plans and is strictly following the advice that is given by Public Health as the lead agency. Continuing advice from Public Health will be implemented immediately by the department.
“DCS will take any necessary action required to keep the South Australian community, our staff, prisoners and offenders safe during this health emergency.”