The prison experience for clients and their families during COVID-19
Written by Ophelia Hollway, Lawyer, Doogue + George Defence Lawyers
COVID-19 represents an unprecedented global phenomenon that is having an extensive impact on society at large. In Victoria, we feel constrained by governmental restrictions mandating that we remain at home unless exercising; attending necessary work or study; purchasing staple food or hygiene items; or caring for the vulnerable.
In a matter of weeks, we have begun to experience the negative effects of our anxiety around the pandemic itself as well as low mood emanating from the societal restrictions designed to keep us safe.
Understandably, there has been significant media attention regarding medical personnel who are on the frontline of this deadly virus, though little has been discussed as to its impact on those in custody and of course, their loved ones.
How then does this pandemic affect people either on remand awaiting their court date or those serving sentence?
As recognised by Corrections Victoria, custodial settings present greater risks in terms of the spread of infection due to the close quarters in which prisoners are confined. It is for this reason that novel prison management strategies have been developed in order to ‘manage the spread’ which in turn have curtailed human rights.
The practical effect of this has been the suspension of prison visits and limited opportunities for recreational activity, meaning those in custody are spending far greater periods ‘locked down’ in their cells.
Without visits from loved ones, those in prison feel disconnected from familial support making their experience of gaol more burdensome. This has been recognised by the Supreme Court in the following notable cases:
- Brown (aka Davis) v The Queen  VSCA 60:
- “…the situation is causing additional stress and concern for prisoners and their families, as it is for every member of the community. The extent to which that may be taken into account, if at all, will be a matter to be resolved on the particular facts of any individual case.”
- Re McCann  VSC 138:
- “…it is overwhelmingly likely that the prisons will be locked down in a way that will make time in custody very difficult for all prisoners”
- Re JK  VSC 160:
- “One of the most common consequences of the pandemic will be significant delays in the hearing of indictable trials”
- “…the pandemic has affected…opportunities to continue with education and training”
- Nguyen v The Queen  VSCA 76:
- “Undoubtedly, the impact of COVID-19 on prisons, like the community in general, is profound”
- R v Madex 
- “An important and unprecedented factor which I take into account is the impact of COVID-19 and the risk that it poses…”
At Doogue + George, we understand prison causes great mental strain, not only for our clients but for their families. It is for this reason that we do our best to maintain high levels of communication, ensuring both clients and their loved ones understand the court process and have their questions answered.
For each case, we endeavour to:
- Explain in as much (lay) detail the court process and possible outcomes;
- Empathise with family members experiencing distress as a result of their loved one being in custody;
- Reassure clients and family members that we will do our utmost to best prepare the case; and
- Maintain high levels of communication with clients and their families.
With this in mind, we ask that you contact us if you have concerns about a family member or friend who is in custody.