The coronavirus emergency highlights the public health threat posed by the crowded ACT prison.
The AMC is overflowing with people with co-occurring substance dependency and other mental health conditions.
The average daily prison population in the ACT is 484, almost double the 247 it was in 2008. At 110.3 per cent, the AMC exceeds its design capacity, contributing to the highest rate of prisoner-on-prisoner violence in the country.
Prescribed physical separation is impossible. Once again, it will be the indigenous community, a mere 1.6 per cent of the ACT population but 23 per cent of the prison population, that is clobbered most.
The high churn of people in and out of prison on short sentences is a health risk to inmates, corrections officers, the families of such people and the whole community.
Countries like Switzerland have shown heroin assisted treatment can reduce property crime by about 70 per cent.
The ACT should accept the finding of the Queensland productivity commission that "illicit drugs policy has failed to curb supply or use" while being "a key contributor to rising imprisonment rates". It concluded "moving away from a criminal approach will reduce harm and is unlikely to increase drug use."
Bill Bush, Families and Friends
for Drug Law Reform, Turner
We are having a crash course in social isolation. This is why we should turn our minds to the role of prisons which use this as the punishment of choice.
We should heed the Open Letter to Australians on COVID-19 and the criminal justice system circulated by the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology.
It details how perilous the lives of prisoners have become as a result of the virus crisis.
It says most prisons, like our own Alexander Maconochie Centre, are overcrowded. They can have rates of cross-infection up to 100 times the rate in the general community.
The letter suggests we urgently improve sanitation and standards of health treatment in prisons.
In other countries, including the UK, US, Iran and Ireland, the release of low risk prisoners is being considered (and implemented in some cases).
The letter calls for the early release of prisoners with pre-existing conditions, older people, children and young people, those convicted of lesser crimes like public disorder and fine default, and of those likely to be released in the next six months.
Prisoners have become catastrophically worse off. By rectifying this situation we could make a long term contribution to the health of our social justice system.
Jill Sutton, Watson
Editorial spot on
Your editorial "We need a government of national unity" (Tuesday, March 24) said it all so well.
The "national cabinet" is a shambles, our Prime Minister's prayer knees are getting a good workout and confusion reigns within our communities.
We are being told we're not acting responsibly enough, that we're not considering others, and have the chance of infecting others.
The "national cabinet" is a shambles, our Prime Minister's prayer knees are getting a good workout and confusion reigns within our communities.L Shaw, Braddon
That could be because we don't see our leaders acting consistently well, or responsibly. This is especially true of the mixed messages about who is responsible for what where border biosecurity is concerned for instance.
Why not have a team of medical professionals informing us and our governments with clear messages? We need everybody singing from the same song sheet so we can respond seriously and responsibly.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese put it well on Tuesday: "Fear and panic.... feed on uncertainty and inconsistency and, at the moment, those ingredients abound. This is the time for national leadership, consistent messages and clear directions".
L Shaw, Braddon
Keep it simple
In your Monday editorial (canberratimes.com.au, March 23) you mention some Canberrans appeared to show open disregard to pleas from both the federal and local governments in observing strict social distancing measures.
The editorial went on to say that as a result we now face a series of punitive measures that will encroach on our liberties in a way that, until recently, was all but unthinkable.
I live in Kingston. Over the last week I have only seen responsible social distancing. Are we overreacting because of scenes of irresponsible behaviour at Bondi Beach and other crowded places?
It was far more irresponsible to allow an endless stream of returnees through our airports without being screened, and to allow the passengers of cruise ships to disembark without any testing.
It is understandable in Canberra for restaurants and cafes to close. But being in a park while keeping your distance should surely be acceptable.
Last week I saw children skipping, playing ball games and generally being free. They, and the adults with them, were all well spaced.
We need fresh air, we need exercise and we need some sensible socialisation to keep fit and healthy.
We should feel free to visit parks if we use them sensibly.
Elizabeth Chisholm, Kingston
Just do it people
After reading Monday's The Canberra Times I was very concerned by the prevalence of the view "COVID-19 is just slightly worse than normal flu so why are we worrying about it?" (Letters, Gwenyth Bray, Garth Setchell and Mario Moldoveanu).
There was also the view expressed by Claudia Porst that as young people wouldn't get too sick she wasn't going to take any action to avoid infection ("Tougher measures as Canberrans ignore advice", canberratimes.com.au, p4).
Current modelling suggests some 20 per cent of Australians will get COVID-19. Given a (probably conservative) death rate of one per cent that is 50,000 deaths.
The one per cent death rate assumes the hospital system can cope, unlike the situation in Italy and Spain where death rates may be as high as high as 10 per cent.
It has been suggested that, if left unchecked, within three months there could be 750,000 COVID-19 cases requiring access to ICU beds. Australia currently has just over 2,200 ICU beds and only about 60,000 public hospital beds in total. That means a lot of people lying (and dying) in corridors.
Based on the age profile of deaths in China, about 20 per cent of fatalities (10,000 based on the conservative estimate) will be aged under 65.
Even for those for whom self-interest outweighs any consideration of the common good, limiting the spread of COVID-19 will significantly reduce the chances you will find yourself lying on a trolley in a hospital corridor waiting to die. Just do it people.
Carol Ey, Weston
Phillip Crace (Letters, March 21) says that many people "see compromise as a half-measure". Sadly, Phillip, so many of the compromises involve not telling the full story.
Allan Gadsby (Letters, March 21) points out Professor Jodie McVernon refused point blank to disclose "what the modelling indicated" for the "future of the pandemic in Australia". No wonder there's still a lot of scepticism amongst the Australian population.
Meanwhile, our Prime Minister tells us Singapore hasn't closed its schools and it has the pandemic under control.
ScoMo's not telling it quite the way it is. With school holidays coming up Singapore will not reopen schools after the break.
Furthermore, two months back every resident was issued with four respirator masks just in case. On top of that, it's now impossible to go outside your residence in Singapore without having your temperature taken every time you enter a public building.
The Singapore government's response has engendered much greater confidence than has been the case here.
If ScoMo and company want to cite Singapore's non-closure of schools until now as a way of handling the crisis it would be appropriate if they copied a few more of that country's initiatives.
Keith Hill, Isaacs
Tuggeranong seems destined to become the African lovegrass (weed) capital of the country. Its rapid growth and inadequate mowing frequency means footpaths are becoming impassable.
The unprecedented explosion of this weed into almost every front verge and garden in my suburb in the past year is proof the present control strategy is woefully inadequate.
It can be controlled if appropriate strategies are funded.
People don't realise their lawn or garden will be destroyed until it is too late. By letting it go to seed they allow it to spread.
The government should teach people how to recognise it, and how to remove or poison it before it releases seed.
Tony Whelan, Gowrie
TO THE POINT
One recent Facebook meme does deserve to be shared widely: "Your grandparents and great grandparents were asked to go off to war and fight. All you are being asked to do is to sit on a couch. We've got this".
N Ellis, Belconnen
Can the Prime Minister assure Australians the US Marines scheduled to arrive in Darwin soon won't be coming? Marines in Europe have tested positive to COVID-19. There's no reason to expect those planning to come here will be free of it.
Kathryn Kelly, Chifley
HORNE WAS RIGHT
Never was it more truly said: "Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people's ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise". (Donald Horne, The Lucky Country, 1964).
David Nolan, Holder
Apparently parliamentary sittings have been suspended until August. Haven't politicians heard about teleconferencing?
Dermot Balaam, Mawson
I can't understand why anyone is bitching about "panic buying". It's consistent with the cutthroat, hedonistic, capitalist culture we have become. It's "everybody for themselves, and the Devil take the hindmost".
Rajend Naidu, Glenfield, NSW
IT IS A MYSTERY
How is it the Morrison government has spent billions on "protecting our borders" yet we have COVID-19 infected people from cruise ships wandering around in most states. Your cartoonist Pope (Letters, March 24), captured this failure beautifully. So much for "border protection".
Gene Schembri, Cook
We are being told non-essential workers should stay home. Yet workers in federal departments that are in no way essential are still being made to attend offices. They should be working from home; so too should the staff of essential departments wherever possible.
Gordon Lawrence, Pearce
The UK Health Secretary has said: "It is abundantly clear smoking makes the impact of a coronavirus worse". This is the time when those who are considering stopping smoking should do so. Governments should help by increasing subsidies on aids such as nicotine replacement therapy.
Dr Alan Shroot,
president, Canberra ASH
WE'VE GOT THIS
Maintaining self isolation won't be a problem for most. We've experienced that en mass for years thanks to mobile phones on public transport, in cafes, restaurants and everywhere else.
W Book, Hackett
The management of this virus lies with scientists. Please, federal, state and territory education ministers, prioritise the training of science and maths teachers so quality teaching in these subjects is provided. You could use the unspent NAPLAN budget.
Susan Swift, Kambah
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