Prisons are COVID-19 tinderboxes, and now we have seen case numbers connected to prisons across NSW explode.
You couldn't get a more dangerous breeding ground for the virus - indoors, poor ventilation, lack of sanitation, overcrowded with little ability to physically distance.
Prisons are unsafe, sometimes deadly places, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. COVID-19 has turned them into even greater death traps.
Over the weekend, the first COVID-19 case was detected in Canberra's prison, the Alexander Maconochie Centre.
NSW should serve as a warning to the ACT as to how fast COVID-19 can spread when it enters the prison system. At least 159 people in NSW prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, sending prisons into lockdown across the state.
From the outset of the pandemic, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, human rights and legal advocates have called on federal, state and territory governments to reduce the number of people in prisons in order to keep everyone safe.
Yet a year and a half into the pandemic, Australian governments continue to drive more and more people into prisons - putting all of our lives and health at risk.
Evidence from around the world has shown how lethal COVID-19 can be in closed environments like prisons. We saw the virus tear through American prisons - costing at least 2715 people their lives.
People churn through the prison system on a daily basis, and a revolving door of workers means there is ample opportunity for COVID-19 to enter prisons and then go back out into the community. The health of our wider communities is linked to that of people in prison.
Instead of taking the safer approach of significantly reducing prison populations at the beginning of the pandemic, some governments have instead resorted to harmful measures to address the risk of COVID-19 - like locking people away in solitary confinement and denying them access to lawyers, family and time outdoors.
Addressing the risk of COVID-19 by subjecting people to cruel, degrading, and sometimes unlawful treatment is no solution. Given the available alternative of using existing legal mechanisms to reduce prison populations and safely release low-risk, First Nations, elderly, children and people with disabilities into the community with families where they can live in safety, it is unjustifiable.
Prisons have always been places where people's human rights are disregarded, and abuse is allowed to thrive in the darkness. COVID-19 has just turbocharged the dangers people face behind prison walls.
But it has also made the choices faced by governments clear.
Governments can choose to ignore the many warnings issued by families, health and legal experts and put the lives of people in prisons, and in the broader community, at risk. Or, we can use this moment to take stock of the shortcomings of our criminal legal system, ban solitary confinement and reduce the number of people being pipelined into prisons for the health and safety of all of us.
The ACT and governments across Australia have a decision to make. We should all hope our governments choose the latter.
- Sophie Trevitt is executive officer of Change the Record. Monique Hurley is a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre.