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The testing in the prisons, amnesty and parole. Will it happen?

Yevgeniy Zakharov
We are on the verge of an outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic in penitentiaries. There is an urgent need to test staff and prisoners in institutions where the disease has already been registered, and to consider as soon as possible the amnesty and parole bills submitted to the Verkhovna Rada on April 27.

After the publication of our article on April 23 “There is no coronavirus in prisons. But there is” which contained the examples of the disease, it was accepted that COVID-19 appeared in the penitentiaries. At the same time the Department of Criminal Punishments of the Ministry of Justice started to provide data on the disease on the daily basis on their Facebook page. More than three weeks passed since then, and the indicators had little to no change. Since April 29 it is indicated that two prisoners and one convict showed positive result for PCR test in Chernivtsy and Kropyvnytskiy pre-trial detention centers, while two were accepted to Chernivtsy pre-trial detention center with established diagnosis and a detainee in Kropyvnytskiy pre-trial detention center achieved PCR-testing. Currently two medical employees of HC of SPSU and 13 employees of SPSU are diseased – 18 diseased persons in total. 442 studies were conducted.

What does this data suggest? In my opinion, first, the testing of the convicts and detainees is apparently not carried out at all, even for those who were in contact with the diseased employees. Second, the data on the number of the diseased employees is very doubtful. It is hard to expect that they will be so low given the growth dynamics of the disease in the country and the perfect conditions for the spread of coronavirus in pre-trial detention centers and penitentiaries. Especially, as our research has shown, most institutions are neglected in terms of complying with sanitary and hygiene norms.

An example with Darnytskiy boarding school for girls, where one employee was diagnosed and everybody was tested is striking. the test results of 81 persons turned out positive. What would happen if such testing was conducted on all employees and prisoners of Kropyvnytskiy pre-trial detention center where one prisoner and one employee got ill? It would have shown the real level of disease at least in one institution.

In Kropyvnytskiy the coronavirus was also confirmed for the deputy Head of the correctional colony No.6. Kropyvnytskiy pre-trial detention center and CC No.6 are located nearby, there are several married couples where the husband (wife) works in pre-trial detention center and the wife (husband) in CC No.6. That means that the employees of the institutions are contact persons, they communicate with the convicts in the CC No. 6 and the prisoners in pre-trial detention center. The acting head of the pre-trial detention center says that all contact employees should undergo tests at their own expense in a private firm. At the same time he asked a public organization for charity to test 40 employees of the pre-trial detention center and 20 detainees who were in contact with one of the diseased employees. This is the same acting head of the pre-trial detention center who during the same period tortured two detainees in that center, extorting money from them.

As we had written many times, the release of the prisoners from serving their sentence through amnesty or parole and the replacement of the preventive measure for the detained persons were recognized as the priority direction for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 in the penitentiaries worldwide. Only after that there will be a chance for efficient prevention of the spread of the disease. The Ministry of Justice has developed two draft laws – on amnesty and parole, On 24 April they were approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, and on 27 April they were submitted by the Government to the Parliament for consideration. Three weeks have passed, and instead of their urgent consideration they are ignored. During that time only one Committee – the Human Rights Committee – examined the draft law on amnesty (No.3397). It seems that those who make decisions lack any understanding of a great danger of the coronavirus outbreak in the penitentiary institutions – not only for them, but also for the population of the areas surrounding the institutions. I’m not saying that you could expect negative reaction from both prisoners and staff. It could often be heard that as soon as the disease appears, the employees will file the dismissal reports. And the prisoners await the approval of those two draft laws like godsend.

Therefore, if the leadership of the state speaks seriously about the fight with the spread of COVID-19, it must test the prisoners and staff in the institutions where there is a confirmed diagnosis, at the expense of the state, and urgently consider the draft laws 3397 and 3396. I don’t even want to mention the mantras written in Article 3 of the Constitution, that human life and health are the highest social values and that establishment and protection of human rights and freedoms is the main duty of the state, and in Article 24 – that the citizens have the equal constitutional rights and freedoms and are equal before the law. Because the attitude of the leadership of the state towards coronavirus in prisons shows that for them those norms of the Constitution are hypocritical and empty declarations.

However, I would be very glad to be wrong.

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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