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About coronavirus in correctional colonies in Ukraine

Hanna Ovdienko
The outbreak of disease among convicts will be very ripping. It will not be a small fire that can be controlled, and not even a blaze in the house. It will be a great tragedy – a huge fire of the highest degree of danger that will capture everyone.

During last few days we have interviewed about twenty convicts serving sentences in ten different penitentiary institutions in Ukraine. The survey focused on anti-epidemic measures taken to prevent coronavirus outbreaks. However, it will be incorrect to name specific institutions now, as it is likely that the situation is tragic throughout whole penitentiary system, not just in individual detention centres or colonies.

Here is, the decrees of the Minister of Justice of Ukraine, Chief of the State Criminal Executive Service and the Director of the Health Centre introduced a special regime of anti-epidemic protection in the penitentiary institutions, which included restricting the rights of prisoners and introducing prophylactic measures to prevent outbreaks of disease. Among other things, measures were taken of disinfection of the buildings and facilities of the penitentiary institution, providing access to personal protective equipment for staff, to conduct daily temperature screening and visual inspection of staff of institutions, visitors and persons who are detained there.

Many other measures have been introduced related to limiting the attendance of facilities, the movement of convicts between institutions and across the territory, the restriction of staff on business trips, holding court hearings through videoconference regime, etc. We should state that such measures are indeed being implemented.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about disinfection and anti-epidemic measures.

The interviewed convicts reported that the only anti-epidemic measures, in particular, the prohibition of movement within the institutions and the transfer of convicts among prisons, as well as the ban on visits, they were aware of. One institution also gave a lecture on how to properly wash hands.

The prisoners complained that the police officers did not use protective masks, gloves and goggles. Disinfection of the premises where prisoners are placed is not carried out or is very rare. Neither temperature screening of convicts is not carried out, nor daily visual inspection or questioning. In general, to be admitted to a doctor with symptoms of respiratory infection, one must be very persistent. Of course, no test systems are involved, even in the case of suspicious symptoms.

Let’s imagine now that an infected person was accidentally admitted to the territory of one of the penitentiary institution. For example, it could be a law enforcement officer who is currently on the cutting edge of the virus and there are already infected persons. Even with temperature screening of visitors, the virus can be passed into the institution, because it has a long incubation period, and some people (according to some data – up to a third of all patients) carry the infection asymptomatically.

Thus, the prison staff and convicts will be in contact with an ill person without masks, gloves and glasses. A big concern is whether disinfection after contact with this ill person will be conducted. And if not?

So let’s imagine the virus that has invaded into the premises and caused the illness of some of the staff or of the prisoners. What’s next? This question can be answered by taking into account the conditions of detention in Ukrainian correctional colonies. These are, in many cases, inadequate sanitary conditions: moldy, excessive humidity, cold due to lack of heating, lack of hot water. Of course, there are institutions where the general conditions of detention are quite good. But nutrition is poor in almost all establishments.

Chronic deficiency of vitamins, minerals and nutritious proteins leads to a harsh decrease of immunity among convicts. Let’s multiply it by the secrecy of the collective of the prisoners in the colony, who are in the same premises for hours, use the same things, get their hands on the same doors, faucets, etc. Let’s remind about the level of chronic diseases among convicts who have a history of treated tuberculosis, many years of experience of hepatitis B or C, who are receiving ART-therapy for the fight against HIV (AIDS). The percentage of convicts who do not have severe chronic illness is very small.

Additionally to all of these, all the interviewed prisoners complained to us about inadequate quality of medical care, lack of doctors, medicines, and lack of examinations. Therefore, the disease will spread among the convicts rapidly and unnoticedly. So, when it is finally noticed (maybe after the first dead? Or not?) it will be too late.

Now let’s just mention one more. Coronavirus disease mortality depends on the overall health and age of the infected person. At greatest risk are those with chronic heart, lung, and immuno-suppression (also caused by HIV).

The outbreak of disease among convicts will be very ripping. It will not be a small fire that can be controlled, and not even a blaze in the house. It will be a great tragedy – a huge fire of the highest degree of danger that will capture everyone. Remember the Diamond Princess cruise ship. There were a few similar conditions: closed collective, shared premises. At the end of January 2020, a single coronavirus patient appeared on the liner. And as of March 23, 2020, 761 of the 3,711 passengers and crew were already infected.

This example tells us about the very rapid spread of the virus in local closed teams. But if the passengers of the liner were healthy and wealthy people, the prisoners would find themselves in much severe conditions. Almost everyone can become infected without money, without protection, without tests and without proper medical care. Only God knows how many of them will die.

One another and very important issue should be stated. If prisoners become ill the staff of the penitentiary institution will become ill. The amount of infected is in question? But if one gets ill, everyone who comes in contact with him should go to quarantine. There may be a situation where working in an institution will simply impossible because everyone will either be ill or quarantined. Of course, there is an option of emergency involvement of employees from other institutions. But if the tragedy of a coronavirus infection is not in one penitentiary institution, but in several, then it is unlikely to find "extra hands". Will they agree or are they could simply retire from work? Knowing that they will have to contact hundreds of convicts who are ill and endanger themselves? Working in this kind of risk for the low salary? Working without no state guarantees? We have no answer to that.

We have fear. A tremendous anxiety is for the staff of the institutions, detainees in those institutions. That is why we appeal to the Minister of Justice of Ukraine, the Health Center of the State Criminal Executive Service of Ukraine, the Ombudsman, the President of Ukraine, the leadership of the State Penal Executive Service of Ukraine. We hope you will hear us.

But even more, we ask the heads of each penitentiary facility to turn your attention to this publication. To reflect. Of course, this tragedy will not personally affect either the Minister of Justice or the President. But it is likely to affect you and your families personally. Because you will be in contact with the infected and you can get ill. You personally.

The publication was prepared with in theimplementation of UNDP project “Civil Society for Enhanced Democracy and Human Rights in Ukraine” with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.

The material provided in this publication is subject to copyright. However, the United Nations Development Programme welcomes the dissemination of such informatioт for non-commercial purposes.

EC Project “Making Ukraine resistant to torture, ill-treatment and impunity”

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