With a surge of confirmed cases of Covid–19 within Australian prisons, the newly formed National Network of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls urges state governments to immediately decarcerate all women and children locked in prisons across the country.
At a meeting this week of the National Network, the group of formerly incarcerated women discussed the ongoing hardships and health risks experienced by those inside during the pandemic. We mourned the loss of another woman’s life in a Western Australian prison.
The National Network is a group of women who are or have been incarcerated. We are dedicated to driving our own collective vision for the future, our way. “Right across this country, people are speaking about us, without us. This National Network will recentre the voices of criminalised women and girls in the public discourse. We have the lived experience and the expertise to drive our own agenda,” Debbie Kilroy said.
The National Network is committed to decarceration, the need to move away from using prisons and other systems of social control in response to crime and social issues. The Network argues that no woman or child should be imprisoned in this country, for the abolition of all prisons, including those that cage children. “As women and girls with lived experience we will not accept conceding our demands because those that are arguing to reform the youth “justice” space by raising the age do not have to live with the compromise, Tabitha Lean said.
The National Network remain concerned and outraged at what is happening inside our prisons right now, “We are hearing that people are being prevented from using the phones to call home, it‘s been months since mothers have held their children, there have been attempted suicides and an increase in self harm, and the National Network are advised that in the past month three people have died from suicide in Western Australian prisons. It’s an outrage that we aren’t hearing a whisper, let alone a roar about the human rights violations of women and kids inside,” Vicki Roach said.
Women and children in prison, are facing extensive lock downs, cessations of visits, restricted access to phones, programs and service support and limited health care. As a result, the National Network resolved to publicly call for the immediate release of all children and women who are currently incarcerated in prisons in the middle of the pandemic.
Long term strategies to increase connection between women and children in prison, and their families need to be enacted immediately. These include the expansion of access to video calls, and the implementation of free calls, and outgoing mail across all Australian prisons. Plans to ensure access to programs, meaningful employment, psychological care, and education are maintained through the pandemic are also integral. The deafening silence from “corrections” departments about the support being offered to people inside, and their families to remain healthy and connected is extremely concerning. The silence speaks volumes about the disposability of human lives behind bars.
People believe that women in prison are being kept at arm’s length from the community, however the outbreak of Covid–19 in our prisons indicates just how closely connected we all are. While people may like to think they lock people up and “throw away the key“, women and children are already being released into the community through bail, parole, and at the
cessation of their sentence with little or no support. We call for the safe, supported release of all women and children incarcerated in prisons today.
There have been confirmed COVID–19 cases in our children and adult prisons right across the country. This has resulted in wide scale prison lock downs, cancellation of family visits, and women and children being placed in lockdown, which is solitary confinement. The permanent, negative impacts of solitary confinement are well recognised, and include paranoia, anxiety, severe psychological suffering, and permanent psychiatric disability. These harmful effects can commence immediately whilst in the prison cell and continue following confinement.
“Across the globe we are seeing prisons continue to release vulnerable people in prison to help flatten the curve, to protect people and to mitigate the potential of a devastating health crisis. Yet in this country, we have not had one single compassionate release,” Tabitha Lean said.
“We know that Covid–19 is in our children’s prisons and we know that children inside are scared, they’re suffering, their mental health is being affected. We must act now, if we want to prevent any more deaths in custody,” Vicki Roach said.
“Prisons must be an integral part of the public health response to COVID–19. We do not have the luxury of time here, and we do not have the luxury of being able to just take small steps and hope that this problem is going to go away.” Debbie Kilroy said.
“We need to urgently release people in order to protect them and while we are doing that, let us into the prisons, let us run programs, let us support women and kids inside.”
We must #FreeHer
For further comments please contact:
Debbie Kilroy 0419762474
Tabitha Lean 0499780226
Vicki Roach 0481303872
How can you help?
The Sisters Inside Fund for Children supports children of women in the criminal justice system to choose their own future free of the burdens so commonly felt while their mother is in prison.
#Free Her Campaign
This campaign has been set up by Debbie Kilroy, CEO of Sisters Inside Inc. The funds raised will be used to release people from prison and pay warrants so they are not imprisoned.