A ban on visits to prisons in NSW, which sparked riots at correctional centres in Goulburn and Wellington, will be lifted by the state’s Corrective Services.
From Monday, 23 November, each inmate will be allowed two visitors, including two adults, or one child and one adult.
Visitors will have to wear surgical masks for the entire visit and no handshakes will be allowed, however a ‘fist’ or ‘elbow bump’ at the beginning and end of the visit will be permitted.
Inmates and their visitors will remain physically distanced at all other times and visits will be limited to 30 minutes. No food or drinks will be allowed during the visits.
Corrective Services NSW Commissioner Peter Severin said the number of visitors to prisons could eventually increase, but visit conditions may also change at any time if an increased risk of COVID-19 is identified.
Corrective Services suspended visits in March 2020 to protect staff and inmates from the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning inmates were restricted to video communication only.
However, the lockdown sparked riots at Goulburn Correctional Centre and Wellington Correctional Centre in April.
Inmates at Goulburn threw canned food at prison officers and lit several small fires. At Wellington, a cell was lit on fire and inmates in neighbouring cells refused to leave.
No visitors meant many inmates couldn’t get their hands on banned drugs, said Prison Officers’ Vocational Branch chairperson Nicole Jess.
“Unfortunately, [visits] is one way they get their drugs in,” said Ms Jess at the time of the riots.
She told Region Media that some branch members welcome the reintroduction of visits, but others want to wait until there is a COVID-19 vaccine.
Ms Jess said some members are “worried” by the news a prison worker in South Australia tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, 15 November.
However, she said NSW and Victoria are the only two states that haven’t reintroduced visits, and that Victoria will lift its ban on 1 December.
Ms Jess also said staff are prepared for an outbreak and that infected inmates wouldn’t be taken into the community. Instead, 30 inmates could be accommodated at the temporary COVID-19 hospital inside the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre, a maximum-security correctional facility in Sydney.
“There are cleaning procedures that will take place before and after visits, and we’ve got more personal protective equipment than ever before so we’re prepared if something happens,” she said.
However, branch members will meet on Wednesday, 18 November, to discuss Corrective Services’ decision and voice their recommendations.