Managing COVID-19 at Corrections

Last updated: 01 Jul 2022

As an organisation, our top priority is safety – of the public, our staff, visitors to our sites and the people we are managing in prisons and the community. Since March 2020 we have put in place extensive plans to manage the risk presented by COVID-19, and we have continuously refined these plans in response to changing Alert Level settings and the introduction of the COVID-19 Protection Framework (traffic light system).

Building resilience

A key objective for Corrections moving forward is to build resilience to COVID-19 across all parts of our organisation.
In late May 2022 we implemented our new COVID-19 Custodial Resilience Operating Framework (CCROF) in prisons, replacing our former three-stage response model. The CCROF provides the required flexibility and support to enable our sites to focus on delivering rehabilitation and reintegration services to people in prison, while keeping staff and prisoners safe. The model supports a safe and sustainable return to greater normality for prison operations, with activities gradually resuming over time

Some prisons have now resumed face-to-face visits and other sites are currently working on plans to resume activities, including visits, in a safe and sustainable way.

COVID-19 Custodial Resilience Operating Framework (CCROF)

The CCROF contains two operating modes which respond to the levels of transmission within a site. In addition to the two settings, where prisons are operating to a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) due to reduced staffing levels, Prison Directors will make collaborative decisions within their BCP constraints to utilise their available resources to deliver priority activities.

COVID-19 Business As Usual

  • This is the default setting for prisons. In this setting, all activities are permitted to take place, with appropriate COVID-19 controls in place.
  • Activities in prison, including face-to-face visits to people in prison, will be resumed over time as it is safe to do so and not every activity will resume at once.
  • The framework provides guidance for Prison Directors to make decisions on how and when activities can safely resume.

COVID-19 Incident Response

When COVID-19 levels become more severe in prisons and there is a need to restrict activity to keep people safe, a prison may move into COVID-19 Incident Response mode. This may be the case where there is an outbreak of the virus to more than one unit outside of separation and/or quarantine areas.

  • In this mode, most activities (including visits) are unable to be delivered, either in affected units or across the whole site. However, critical activities will continue to be delivered  at minimum, including meals, laundry, and physical and mental health, and addiction services.
  • Prison Directors are able to determine which other activities are able to be supported during a COVID Incident Response, supported by Regional and National Office leaders.

Business Continuity Planning

It is important that we avoid a widespread outbreak amongst our custodial staff to maintain the numbers required to deliver our essential work, and to keep the public safe. We are a 24/7 operation and the safe and secure operation of all our prisons is paramount. Our custodial staff are skilled workers who have undergone specialist training, and we need to do everything we can to prevent a significant number having to isolate at any one time, therefore reducing the number of available staff to run our prisons.

We have extensive business continuity plans in place at certain prisons to meet the required staffing levels across range of different situations, including health emergencies, natural disasters, and the ongoing response to COVID-19.

Like other organisations, we have seen an increase in the turnover of frontline staff as the pandemic enters into its third year. There are no staff shortages impacting the safe and secure operation of any of our prisons or Community Corrections sites.

Prison visit updates

Community Corrections and COVID-19

Community Corrections provides an essential service to people serving community-based sentences and orders at over a hundred sites nationwide. Under the Alert Level system, Corrections managed the COVID-19 risk effectively by undertaking community activities remotely at higher Alert Levels.

A new model has been established for Community Corrections that builds on the success of this strategy. A three-stage model has been implemented for Community Corrections Sites.

As this increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for our staff, our new approach supports greater flexibility at the local level in determining the necessary measures to keep our people safe, no matter which traffic light setting is in place. Under our new Community Corrections Protection Stage model, our districts and sites operate at one of three COVID-19 Protection Stages which reflect the traffic light setting of the region but also the level of risk presented more locally.

Protection Stage 1

  • Home visits continue to occur, with PPE.
  • Report-ins continue with masks.
  • Community work can operate without distancing when masks are worn in the vans.

Protection Stage 2

  • Home visits can occur when assessed as necessary, with PPE.
  • Distancing is required in the office with masks used during report-ins.
  • Remote reporting when appropriate.
  • Community work can operate with lower numbers and with distancing.

Protection Stage 3

  • The vast majority of work is done remotely
  • Home visits can continue when there is a need to (high-risk or there is a humanitarian reason with appropriate PPE
  • Community work is not in operation
  • Reduced contact with low risk individuals
  • Credit for community work may be used when it cannot operate

Determining our Protection Stages

Our locally-based District Managers are supported to determine which Protection Stage their District or sites will operate at by using a decision matrix tool with the support of a decision panel which includes union representation and Health & Safety representatives. The following points are considered when determining the appropriate Protection Stage for Districts or individual sites, regardless of the traffic light setting:

  • The number of active COVID-19 cases currently in the District, and how spread out they are
  • The number of people subject to community-based sentences or orders who have COVID-19 and which service areas are most affected
  • Whether the District has a high population of people at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, and whether high-risk populations report to particular service centres