Virtual prison visits have been set up by ACT Corrections to help prisoners and their families stay connected after the COVID-19 crisis prevented people visiting Canberra's jail.
From Friday, a video conferencing system will be operating at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, which will allow each detainee one video visit per week.
Visitors can book a meeting by phoning ACT Corrections, identifying the prisoner they want to "see", and specifying a preferred date and time. They will then receive an SMS confirmation and a meeting identification code from Corrections, which will allow them to log in from an external device.
The jail was shut down to all visitors on Sunday as the risk of passing on an infection to the prison population became too great.
Canberra's prison has over 470 inmates in a jail designed for a much smaller population. Many are double bunked and such is the infectious nature of COVID-19, one infection which went undetected would spread quickly through the population.
Three detainees were isolated quickly from the rest of the prison population earlier this week when they displayed flu-like symptoms. The three detainees tested negative to the virus and will be returned to the general prison population.
The restriction of one "virtual visit" per prisoner per week is due to the limited availability of devices inside the jail and the requirement to maintain social distancing protocols
Video visits will be subject to the same conditions as normal visits which will include:
- No profanity;
- No shouting or loud conversations;
- No sexual activity or provocative behaviour;
- No verbal abuse;
- No clothing with offensive/racist slogans phrases or diagrams; and
- No clothing or other displays related to organised crime groups or organisations, such as bikie gangs patches
Additionally, the video-conferencing will not allow any secondary access to other devices such as mobile phones.
Visitors using the video link will be asked to put themselves into a location where other members of the public can't be seen on camera, and they are not allowed to "invite" other people into the conference link.
Any linking to secondary devices will also be a breach of the regulations.
The virtual visits will use the common and free "Zoom" software, which will need to be downloaded on the visitor's device before the conference.
In NSW, such is the level of concern over a potential coronavirus pandemic behind bars that laws have been rushed through state Parliament which will allow the state's Corrective Services Commissioner to make order permitting prisoners to be released early on parole.
ACT Corrections Commissioner Jon Peach has received a similar request and is understood to be considering its implications.
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