Sunday, November 28

Prison officers can’t help but burst their Covid-19 work bubbles – union

Prison officials do their best to stay within the bubbles, but “there is some contamination” that is unavoidable, says the president of the Penitentiary Association.

A prison officer

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

A correctional officer at Spring Hill Prison in Waikato tested positive for Covid-19, and less than a third of inmates in the same unit have received their first dose of the vaccine.

Corrections Association President Alan Whitley said Control It is not the first time that Covid-19 has been in a prison – a prisoner in Auckland Women’s Prison had Covid-19 in the latest outbreak.

But he said the situation is “worrying.”

He said that depending on the officers’ absences and movements within the prison, “sometimes there is some contamination between units or people who work in one unit and then in another unit.”

All prisons are too understaffed to operate completely separate bubbles, he said.

A Tūrangi woman said Control she wrote to the Prime Minister and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis a week ago expressing her concern about the transfer of inmates between prisons during level 4 lockdown.

Whitley said prisoner escorts have been conducted under alert level 4.

“I know some prisoner escorts were conducted under alert level 4 to release some beds. Some of those beds that were released were in Spring Hill so they could take pre-trial prisoners coming in and also manage the isolation units. and quarantine units if they had to.

“I am not aware of any prisoners moving from Spring Hill at this time, but there could be other movements across the country if we have a shortage of beds,” he said.

When prisoners are transferred to a new prison, they are put in an isolation unit for 14 days, Whitley said.

He said he’s sure this is still going on.

Prison Director Scott Walker said the staff member who tested positive for Covid-19 last night lives in Auckland, is fully vaccinated and has not had any symptoms.

“We took immediate action Monday night to identify and contact 23 staff members who had contact with the person while on the job,” Walker said.

“All were recommended to isolate themselves and get tested according to the advice of the public health unit. These personnel will not return to work until they have returned the negative tests and have been approved by the public health team.”

Corrections said that of the 427 Spring Hill prison employees, 406 received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and 288 are fully vaccinated.

The staff member worked at the prison on Saturday, and that night they were linked to a recent landmark.

“They immediately self-isolated and got tested on Sunday. That test came back positive Monday night.”

Walker said 123 inmates in the unit where the staff member worked have been segregated for medical supervision and will be screened for Covid-19.

Whitley said life will be very different for those prisoners than it was before the officer tested positive.

“They will be allowed to go out in smaller groups, I know that Corrections is looking for information from the DHB since it is a stable population, they have not had any movement in and out of that unit, what size of group they can get outside, all that will be determined in the coming days “.

Of the men in the unit, Corrections said 46 had received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

“The unit is now operating as a quarantine unit, which means that all personnel wear enhanced PPE, which includes masks, gloves, gowns and goggles when interacting with prisoners,” he said.

“Prisoners have also been instructed to wear PPE.”

Whitley said he believes the prisoners have only been asked to wear a mask.

Since the country went to alert level 4, prisoners wear masks every time they are outside their cells.

Walker said some recently released men were being contacted.

“A small number of men who were in the unit and have been released are being contacted and advised to isolate themselves and get tested, and the public health unit will follow up.”

The Spring Hill prison has the capacity for around 1,200 inmates, and Corrections said 404 inmates had received their first dose of the vaccine, while 45 inmates had been fully vaccinated.

The release of the vaccine to prisoners was halted in June, after the Health Ministry decided to delay the release of the vaccine to certain groups to manage declining stocks. It resumed at the end of July.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis declined to be interviewed by Control But in a statement he said he thanks the infected staff member for his vigilance in getting tested.

He said Corrections had been planning this possibility for some time and was fully confident that their comprehensive plans will limit any spread of the virus within the prison.

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