Covid-19: vaccinated prisoners will have no choice if they are housed with non-vaxxed inmates

The Department of Corrections says it has no plans to separate vaccinated and unvaccinated inmates in prisons.

As a result, the more than 2,000 inmates who sleep with another inmate will have no choice if the person they share a cell with is protected from Covid-19.

The correctional service is upholding the decision, saying its existing Covid control measures are sufficient.

The measures include separating new prisoners for 14 days and testing them for the virus upon arrival in prison, on the fifth day of their stay and again on the 12th day.

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University of Otago epidemiologist Nick Wilson said while these measures were sufficient under normal circumstances, they did not do so during a large-scale outbreak in the Delta.

Chief Corrections Warden Neil Beales of Wellington said on Wednesday eight people with Covid-19 were being held by the department.

Seven were at Mt Eden and one at the Auckland Region Women’s Correctional Center.

Out of 7,961 detained on site as of October 31 5,147 had received their first dose and 4,178 their second.

A vaccination mandate is in force for prison staff and visitors over 12 years old must have received at least one dose.

Several cases of Covid have emerged among new arrivals at Mt Eden Remand Center in Auckland.

John Selkirk / Tips

Several cases of Covid have emerged among new arrivals at Mt Eden Remand Center in Auckland.

Beales said corrections had already taken “extensive measures” to prevent Covid-19 from entering prisons.

“We have managed cases of Covid-19 without transmission between inmates or staff. “

Twenty-eight percent of the prison population is double-berthed or sharing a cell – up from 43 percent three years ago.

Corrections said they were not aware of any requests for vaccinated prisoners to be separated from unvaccinated inmates.

Of the current cases, one has returned a positive test before being taken into custody, Beales said.

“This person was therefore immediately placed in a dedicated quarantine area, where they were taken care of by a dedicated group of fully vaccinated staff wearing full PPE, including masks, gloves, gowns and goggles.

Friends and whānau of prisoners must have at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to visit prison facilities.  (File photo)

John Hawkins / Stuff

Friends and whānau of prisoners must have at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to visit prison facilities. (File photo)

“The other seven people have tested positive as part of our routine testing for newly arrived prisoners. “

Beales said there have been 34 cases of Covid-19 in prisons since the virus arrived in New Zealand. There had been “no known transmission in prison,” he said.

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At the start of the pandemic, United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization calls on countries to release prisoners who could be safe in the community to reduce the risk of the spread of Covid in prisons.

Various countries, including the United States, subsequently released a significant number of prisoners.

Wilson said New Zealand should consider further reducing the already declining prison population to mitigate the risk of an outbreak.


Roxie Mohebbi is leading a discussion on the Covid-19 vaccine with immunologist Dr Maia Brewerton and GP Dr Api Talemaitoga as part of Stuff’s Whole Truth project.

Current measures were reasonable in a situation where there was no outbreak, but other measures should be explored given the scale of the current community outbreak, he said.

“Infectious diseases are commonly spread in prisons,” he said.

“It’s a high risk environment.

“They should explore many options, if there is a Covid outbreak, … following the lead of parts of the world where people whose sentences are coming to an end are getting options of early release or house arrest. to minimize the number of people in prison. “

Prisons should also seek to improve their “separation arrangements” and give inmates the option of not doubling the bunk with an unvaccinated fellow inmate, he said.

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