Prison authorities are trying to relocate people being held in a custody centre underneath the Melbourne Magistrates Court building after two positive coronavirus tests.
Victoria Police, which manages the centre, confirmed two staff had tested positive at the weekend and that the centre was now in lockdown for a deep clean.
Police and Corrections Victoria officials are working on relocating the prisoners to other jails. Police and health officials are also trying to trace whether other police staff were in contact with the pair who recorded positive tests.
The positive tests are unlikely to disrupt court hearings, as accused people on remand will be able to appear remotely before magistrates, via video links.
A handful of positive results have been recorded in Victorian jails over the past fortnight, including prisoners and staff. The latest was on Sunday when a prisoner at the Metropolitan Remand Centre tested positive. He is now in isolation.
The positive tests have prompted a renewed call by prisoner advocates to release some inmates – such as the elderly, the vulnerable and those on shorter sentences – into alternative accommodation to reduce the risk of a large-scale outbreak in Victorian jails.
The mother of a prisoner in his 20s who was jailed for non-violent offending said her son and other inmates were stressed at the prospect of the virus spreading in jails, where social distancing is difficult.
Her son's jail went into lockdown recently because a prisoner had been in contact with a guard at another prison and the guard had tested positive.
"It will spread like it did in cruise ships and in those [Melbourne residential] towers," the mother, who did not want to be named because of possible ramifications of speaking out, said.
"They are stressed in there … if it gets in there it will be trouble.
"And I worry if it comes to my son being on a ventilator and you or me or an elderly person … I do think they're the forgotten ones. No one cares about them because they're in prison because they've done the wrong thing. That may be true but they're still human beings."
The woman, whose son had told her inmates did not have access to face masks or hand sanitiser, called on the state government to find alternative options for some prisoners, such as home detention with ankle bracelets.
She said her son's stint in prison had helped him turn his life around, as he was on "the wrong path" and associating with bad influences before his offending.
"I just don't want it to kill him now," the mother said.
Court staff, judicial officers, prison workers and lawyers will continue working under the tighter restrictions announced by the state government on Monday, as the justice system is considered an essential service.
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