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Impact of, and response to, ongoing COVID restrictions on custody-based criminogenic programs

Impact of COVID restrictions

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the capacity of CSNSW to deliver criminogenic programs in custodial locations across the State.

Offender Services & Programs released a statement in September 2021 referring to the OS&P COVID-Safe Roadmap – to support an understanding of which activities can safely take place in any given custodial location, at any given time. The roadmap consists of four distinct phases - Phase 1 indicating a location is operating under the most severe restrictions, down to Phase 4 when a location is operating under the least severe restrictions. As per a Commissioner’s Instruction, group-based programs were suspended in Greater Sydney, Hunter and Western regions of NSW from August 2021 with all of these centres being placed in Phase 1.

The primary concern around the delivery of criminogenic programs in custodial settings during a pandemic is that, by their nature, they bring a number of people together in a confined space for a significant amount of time. There can be up to 12 participants, as well as program facilitators and other CSNSW staff in the same room at any given time. The appropriate use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and social distancing, mitigates the risk of transmission but does not negate it. During the restrictions, where there would usually be over 1300 program places (or active participants) at any one time, this was reduced to around 520 places.

On 28th October the Commissioner’s Instruction was rescinded to allow group-based criminogenic programs to re-commence in those custodial locations that had been impacted by the suspension. A COVID risk assessment process has now been applied across those locations and pending approvals received from the Assistant Commissioners, from December 2021 all locations, in principle, are able to run group-based programs safely in Phase 4.

What are the identified risks of criminogenic programs running in custody?

As of December 2021, available program places have increased from 520 to approximately 1000. There are several key issues that will continue to impact on delivery of group-based programs into 2022, which means we will not reach the 1300 capacity for some time.

These include:

  • Social distancing limits (group sizes) or any restrictions imposed in line with NSW Government requirements
  • Staffing shortages resulting in restricted access to programs; or reduced capacity to deliver programs
  • The reduction in overall inmate state and increased competition for the same offenders across Education, Industries and Programs
  • Delays with inmate movements including the requirement for inmates transferred from metropolitan centres to be housed in a staging area away from the main population for 7-days (at critical points on the transport corridors).

This means that while broadly all high intensity programs across the state can resume (e.g. High Intensity Program Units, Macquarie Intensive Program, Short-Sentence Intensive Program, Young Adult Offenders Program, EQUIPS pathway) most locations will not be back to ‘business as usual’ until at least the end of January 2022.

Further, the Intensive Therapeutic Programs (Violent Offender Therapeutic Programs [VOTP], High Intensity Sex Offender Program [HISOP] and Intensive Drug & Alcohol Treatment Program [IDATP]) located in the Greater Sydney area have all resumed regular groups, however they continue to be impacted by access restrictions.

Most of the programs have been unable to run for a full week since resuming, due to the reasons outlined above, and they are not running at all over the Christmas shut-down period.

MISOP at the MSPC will re-commence in the second half of January 2022; a Deniers program is scheduled to be run from June 2022. MISOP at Kirkconnell Correctional Centre has commenced.

Wellington Correctional Centre will be recanted from early 2022 with the HIPU coming online by March.

Additional measures to address existing participants’ program needs

Should smaller group sizes or access issues remain a concern, the strategies proposed during the Phase 1 suspensions will continue to be employed so not to delay treatment any further. These include the in-cell activity packs, individual contact, or consideration of an alternate pathway. While we continue to support offenders to achieve rehabilitative and reintegration outcomes, the additional measures may not be as impactful as usual program delivery models.

The quality, and quantity, of offender program delivery hours may be negatively impacted by COVID restrictions, meaning that additional supports put in place post-release are desirable.

Residual impact on other business as usual

The OS&P team appreciate that changes to criminogenic program delivery schedules has a flow on effect on the business of other CSNSW and external stakeholders who may consider criminogenic program participation when making decisions related to individual offenders. To this effect we encourage you to use the information in this statement to support your decision-making processes.

The State-wide Program team will provide information to relevant stakeholders directly to outline the impact of custodial program suspensions on specific offenders. Criminogenic program waitlists will be reviewed to determine who will be prioritised for program places as more program places are now becoming available.

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Last updated: 06 Jan 2022