COVID-19

Prison vax split: Offenders can refuse but not officers

The Sunday Herald Sun can reveal movement has been ­restricted at prisons and an “extensive surveillance testing regime” implemented to ­restrict spread of the virus.As of Thursday, one in four prisoners across the state was unvaccinated, which based on the latest prison population figures is estimated to be 1700 people.Covid-19 has swept through the justice system, infecting 54 prisoners and staff at six prisons in less than a month.Prisoners are “strongly ­encouraged” to get the jab ­before they leave quarantine and enter the general prison population. However, they have the right to refuse, unlike staff who must be fully vaccinated by November 26.Covid cases in Melbourne prisonsOn-site vaccination clinics have been in place in Victorian prisons since June. All prisoners and workers have been offered vaccines and those who have not taken them up have done so for reasons ranging from ideological to medical. The department said it used “targeted strategies” to ­encourage vaccine uptake in vulnerable cohorts, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners. The Community and Public Sector Union, which represents prison officers, said it was not overly concerned about a small percentage of prisoners remaining unvaccinated.CPSU spokesman Julian Kennelly said the vaccination rate among inmates was high.“The take-up rates are better than the general community,” Mr Kennelly said. The outbreaks are of great concern to various legal bodies, including the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, which has urged the government to release at-risk prisoners. VALS head of policy Andreea Lachsz said “detained people’s mistrust” of prison ­administrators had contributed to some not getting the jab.

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