Some prisoners in Victorian jails have had almost a month shaved off their sentences due to the restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, giving them an effective “get out of jail free card”, the State Opposition says.
David Southwick, the shadow minister for corrections, said the statistics provided to the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee showed almost 5,000 prisoners accumulated a total of 900 years off their sentences during the COVID lockdown.
They are known as emergency management days (EMD) and are used by prison authorities as a tool to maintain order and safety inside prisons.
They were also used to ensure compliance with infection prevention procedures, such as the wearing of masks and physical distancing, a Victorian Government spokesperson said.
Prison visits were suspended during the pandemic to prevent the spread of the disease, so inmates were given $10 a week in phone allowance to allow them to keep in touch with family and friends.
Mr Southwick said the use of the emergency management days was “very unusual”.
“Normally these emergency management days are treated in such a way in which there would be up to four days taken off prisoners sentences,” he said.
“Not only did the prisoners get this extra get out of jail free card, which is combined, some 900 years off prison sentences, but also prisoners have received phone tablets to make calls to their loved ones while ordinary Victorians have received nothing.”
Under Victorian law, a maximum of four EMD days can be granted under the Corrections Act for every day of disruption or deprivation.
The Government said as of December 17 last year, 129,568 days had been granted to 4,927 prisoners — which is an average of 26.3 days.
Approximately 61 per cent of the days were granted to prisoners on remand who may never get to use them.
There are 20 active cases of coronavirus in Victoria, however no new cases have been detected today.
The Department of Health and Human Services said 10,681 test results were processed in the last 24 hours.
Mr Southwick said it was a double standard because all Victorians did it tough under lockdown.
Tablets and phone calls
“We’ve got the worst performing prisons in the nation, the highest cost, and we see the situations like those being revealed today in which people are just being let out of jail effectively early and free with no consequences no rehabilitation,” he said.
As of December 15 last year, $2.48 million was spent on the weekly phone allowance and $309,777 was spent purchasing 591 tablets for video calls.
A Victorian Government spokesman said EMDs were a privilege not a right, and anyone who misbehaved lost the privilege.
Prisoners were given the extra phone credit because maintaining family connections was seen as important for prisoner rehabilitation, the spokesperson said.
“As a result EMDs have helped maintain a calm prison system,” the spokesperson said.
Assaults in the prison system are at a six-year low and there has been a 17 per cent drop in incidents compared with a pre-COVID period.