The following is a synthesis of recommendations issued by a variety of international organizations on the prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons. The purpose of this document is to streamline the copious amount of information generated daily on this subject in order to assist DIGNITY partners to make sense of it all and take quick action to prevent and control COVID-19 in their prisons and in the communities to which they are connected. Useful information sources are listed at the end of the document so partners can delve deeper into individual points should they wish.
In order to prevent and control COVID-19 in prisons, authorities should:
1. Recall states’ obligations towards detainees and especially the concept of equivalence of care and access to health care.
2. Develop and publicly disclose of COVID-19 prevention and management plans in coordination with public health departments. Adopt comprehensive & transparent decision-making processes.
3. All action further limiting detainee freedoms (e.g. medical isolation, reduced visits, etc.) should:
A. Have a legal basis
B. Be limited in scope and duration
C. Be necessary and proportionate based on the best science available
D. Not be or seem punitive
Prevention & containment
Preventing the virus entering into the prisons:
A. Reduce detained populations (supervised/conditional/early release for low-risk detainees, e.g. those scheduled for release or on pre-trial for lesser offences). Also consider non-custodial alternatives for pre-trial detainees and postponement of imprisonment.
B. Screen and test for the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) as per health authorities’ recommendations.Preventing the virus spreading among the prison staff and detainees:
Containing the virus within prisons & mitigating its effect:
A. Consider release of detainees vulnerable to COVID-19 such as those with underlying health conditions and the elderly taking into consideration the gravity of the committed crime.
B. Ready facilities and procedures for housing people exposed to and infected by the COVID-19 virus. Ensuring isolation should not result in de facto solitary confinement by abiding to the UN Mandela Rules (for example, by ensuring meaningful human contact through electronic communication).
C. Treat detainees infected with COVID-19 as per national guidance in respect of the principle of equivalence of care.
Consider alternative/compensation strategies for visitations (e.g. video conferencing, more telephone access, etc.).
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