NSW prisons outbreak infected hundreds

·3-min read

A COVID-19 outbreak in NSW prisons is finally under control after hundreds of prisoners tested positive to the virus.

Some 553 inmates have so far tested positive to COVID-19 during the NSW Delta outbreak, which began in June.

Of those, 327 tested positive while in quarantine after entering custody, Corrections Minister Anthony Roberts told a budget estimates hearing on Friday.

Some 228 inmates tested positive outside of quarantine, suggesting they acquired the virus while incarcerated.

Seventy-five Corrective Services NSW staffers were also infected.

There are now 15 active cases in the prison system, all of whom tested positive upon entry, leading Mr Roberts to describe it as "a very good story for Corrections".

"We've completely eliminated transmission inside the system," Deputy Commissioner of Corrective Services Luke Grant said.

A man in his 60s last week became the first person to die after becoming infected in prison.

He had been held at the privately run Parklea Correctional Centre in Sydney's northwest, which had a significant outbreak from late August.

The man declined to be vaccinated on September 6, the hearing heard, and had a number of underlying conditions.

When he became seriously ill he was granted bail to be treated in hospital.

The circumstances of his infection will be investigated as part of an independent inquiry into the management of COVID-19 at Parklea.

Former assistant commissioner of police Peter Dein has been appointed to investigate how COVID-19 policies were applied before the outbreak began and make recommendations for improvements.

He will also be closely examining the circumstances of two court cases which aired allegations COVID-negative prisoners were left to bunk with infected cellmates.

Mr Dein will report back to the government by December, with Mr Roberts vowing to make his report public.

Public health experts at the Kirby Institute have been charged with investigating how the virus spread through the prison.

The state's health department stepped up after the outbreak started and "basically took over the management" of the health situation, Acting Corrective Services Commissioner Kevin Corcoran said.

He did not know whether the company that manages Parklea, MTC-Broadspectrum, would be covering those costs.

The hearing also heard vaccination rates in the NSW prison system are still lagging behind the general population.

Some 67 per cent of the prison population is fully vaccinated and 82.5 per cent have received a first dose, with slightly lower rates for Indigenous prisoners.

State-wide, 89.4 per cent of people over 16 have received both doses, while 93.8 per cent have at least one.

The problem is not a lack of supply, Mr Grant said, but the fact the prison population is transient and many inmates are sceptical about vaccines.

With vaccination now mandatory for correctional officers, only 17 have refused to get the jab. They are now subject to a professional standards investigation.

Despite the outbreak, Mr Roberts insisted the prison system was "arguably one of the safest places to be in NSW" during the pandemic.

"We managed to keep it out up until the very end and even then managed it incredibly well," he said.

The government did not heed calls to release prisoners proactively to reduce the COVID-19 risk, Mr Roberts said.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting