Director of Prisons Steven Barrett has quashed social media rumours of rioting at Northward Prison in the wake of two inmates testing positive for COVID-19 this week.
“Since we first became aware of the test results, the atmosphere at both Northward and Fairbanks prisons has remained calm and, contrary to what has circulated on social media, there is no rioting,” Barrett said in audio statement Thursday afternoon.
However, he did say that “staff and prisoners have some anxiety about the positive test results, and that is only to be expected”.
On Monday, two male inmates tested positive for coronavirus through screening tests at Northward. The men were asymptomatic and have been isolated.
Northward was also fully isolated from the public, according to a statement on Monday which said, “internal blocks are isolated from each other, while the prison population and staffing group are retested”.
In March, the prison suspended in-person visits with inmates, replacing those with Skype and messenger interactions.
Barrett said he was aware of exchanges on social media this week that suggested prisoners “are now rioting and that staff are refusing to participate in COVID testing programmes”.
“That is not accurate and nor is it fair,” he said.
He said as part of the prison’s COVID-19 response, following the positive test results, inmates have been confined to their cells.
“We continue to work closely with Public Health officials, and as part of our immediate response to the positive test results and to minimise the opportunity for any further spread of the virus, we’ve restricted residents to their rooms whilst contact tracing and follow-up testing takes place,” he said.
He said his intention is to keep the restrictions in place for the shortest possible time “as I appreciate the impact that long-term cellular confinement can have on emotional wellbeing”.
Barrett, in his statement Thursday, urged residents to be mindful of what they post on social media as it has implications not only for inmates or prison personnel, but for their relatives as well.
“Social media is and remains an extremely important way for people to communicate but when families of prisoners hear falsely of rioting and unrest, it can be intensely worrying and also unsettling for the staff and the prisoners,” he said.
Barrett commended prison staff and “the patience and understanding of the prisoners”.
“They are cooperating to try to tackle this situation together. We’ve came in it together and we will get out of it together,” he said.