A man jailed for 14 months over a break-in at an Illawarra home has been told he may be a candidate for early parole if the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the NSW prison population.
The NSW Government passed urgent legislation in late March allowing the state's Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin to make orders permitting prisoners to be released early on parole.
Under the new powers, the commissioner would need to be satisfied it was "reasonably necessary" because of the risk the COVID-19 pandemic posed to public health or to prison security and order.
In Wollongong District Court this week, Judge Andrew Haesler told young thief Colin John Booth he may be eligible to be considered for such a move if he maintained good behaviour while in custody.
"It is expected that at some stage the virus will get into jails," he said.
"There are plans in pace for people to be released [from custody early] if they can be. It's understandable for anyone in custody to be apprehensive in the current climate - prisoners aren't allowed visitors and they have no capacity to self-isolate.
"You may be a person considered for early release, but that's a matter for the Commissioner."
Documents tendered to the court reveal Booth forced his way inside the Lake Illawarra home under the cover of darkness on April 7 last year while two young women slept inside.
He made his way from room to room but eventually only stole a whipper snipper from an outside greenhouse and a credit card located in a vehicle at the home. Booth then used the stolen card in separate transactions at a service station and McDonalds, spending about $50.
The home owners discovered the missing items when they woke the following morning and reported the incident to police.
Investigations led police to Booth and he was subsequently charged with the break-in and stealing.
Booth told the court he felt "disgusted" in his own behaviour and expressed remorse for the effect his actions had on the victims.
"They probably feel traumatised, afraid someone else will break into their house," he said.
Judge Haesler acknowledged Booth had had a disadvantaged childhood marred by exposure to violence, alcohol and drugs and had largely been self-reliant since the age of 14.
However, he said Booth's behaviour was far from "uncharacteristic" and demonstrated his ongoing defiance of the law.
"You continue to prey on others in the community and for that reason you have to be removed from the community," he said.
"Offences like this create a sense of disquiet and as a community, we learn to distrust people. It only requires a little bit of thought to understand how someone might feel to wake and find someone had gone through their property."
With time served, Booth will be paroled in May 2021 unless he is granted early release due to the COVID-19 pandemic.