Prisoner Isolation and COVID-19 in Queensland


  • Helen Blaber
  • Tamara Walsh University of Queensland
  • Lucy Cornwell


‘Medical segregation’ is being used extensively to limit the possibility of infection and spread of COVID-19. However, there is a real risk that medical segregation may amount to ‘de facto solitary confinement.’ Research around the world has demonstrated that placing prisoners in solitary confinement, even for short periods of time, can cause serious psychological harm which may be irreversible. It is also a serious encroachment on prisoners’ human rights. Queensland’s Human Rights Act has recently come into effect and this has legal implications for COVID-related responses in correctional settings. We argue here that the incursions on prisoners’ human rights that have occurred in Queensland during COVID have, at times, been disproportionate to the risks posed.



A Articles/Books/Reports

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, ‘The Health of Australia’s Prisoners 2018’ (Report, 30 May 2019)

Flynn, Catherine, ‘Getting There and Being There: Visits to Prisons in Victoria − the Experiences of Women Prisoners and Their Children’ (2014) 61(2) Probation Journal 176

Grassian, Stuart, ‘Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement’ (2006) 22 Washington Journal of Law & Policy 325

Kupers, Terry, ‘What To Do With the Survivors? Coping With the Long-Term Effects of Isolated Confinement’ (2008) 35(8) Criminal Justice and Behaviour 1005

Queensland Government, Parole Board Queensland, ‘Annual Report: 2018 – 2019’ (Report, September 2019)

Queensland Government, Parole Board Queensland, ‘Submission to Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council: Intermediate Sentencing Options and Parole’, Queensland Sentencing and Advisory Council (Report, 31 May 2019)

Queensland Productivity Commission, ‘Inquiry into Imprisonment and Recidivism’ (Report, 31 January 2020)

Power, Tamara et al, ‘COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples: An Imperative for Action’ (2020) 29 (15-16) Journal of Clinical Nursing 2737

Walsh, Tamara et al, ‘Legal Perspectives on Solitary Confinement in Queensland’, University of Queensland School of Law (Report, 2020)

Walsh, Tamara, ‘Suffering in Silence: Prohibitions on Interviewing Prisoners in Australia, the US and the UK’ (2007) 33(1) Monash University Law Review 72

World Health Organisation, ‘Preparedness, Prevention and Control of COVID-19 in Prisons and Other Places of Detention: Interim Guidance’, World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe (Report, 15 March 2020)

B Cases

Al-Kateb v Godwin & Ors (2004) 208 ALR 124

Behrooz v Secretary Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2004] HCA 36

British Columbia Civil Liberties Association v Canada (Attorney-General) [2018] BCSC 62

Callanan v Attendee X [2013] QSC 340

Callanan v Attendee Y [2013] QSC 341

Callanan v Attendee Z [2014] 2 Qd R 11

R v KAX [2020] QCA 218

Scott v R [2020] NSWCCA 81

C Legislation

Bail Act 1980 (Qld)

Corrections Act 1986 (Vic)

Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld)

COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (NSW)

Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 (NSW)

Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld)

D Other

Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Prisoners in Australia in 2019’ (Web Page, 5 December 2019) <>

Coalition for the Human Rights of People Imprisoned in Australia, ‘Suspending Family Visits Will Not Prevent COVID-19’ (Media Release, 23 March 2020)

‘Coronavirus: Healthcare and human rights of people in prison’, Penal Reform International (Briefing Note, 16 March 2020)

‘Custodial Offender Snapshot April 2020’ Queensland Government Open Data Portal (Web Page, 2020) <>

‘High Level Summary of QCS Management of COVID-19 within Correctional Centres: current 23/04/2020’, Queensland Corrective Services (Summary, 23 April 2020) <>

Mendez, Juan, Special Rapporteur, Interim Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, UN Doc A/66/268 (5 August 2011)

‘Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)’ Queensland Government (Web Page, 2020) <>

Queensland Government, ‘Changes to Isolation Policies for New and Transfer Prisoners’, Queensland Corrective Services (Media Release, 1 May 2020)

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, GA Res 70/175, UN Doc A/RES/70/175 (8 January 2016, adopted 17 December 2015)