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Coronavirus: critical situation in prisons and detention centres
16.3.20
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A note issued on 12 March by the ombudsman for people denied their freedom in jails and places of detention on describes the situation as "relatively" calm, despite problems resulting from disturbances and violence in numerous prisons in the past days.

The disorder and revolts in dozens of prisons resulted in 13 deaths and in the transfer of over 1,500 people (some of them ongoing). The ombudsman can confirm the identity of 10 of the deceased, only one of whom is Italian. Three were awaiting their first trial and all were between 29 and 42 years of age. The ombudsman will contact the relevant attorney's offices in Modena, Rieti, Parma, Alessandria, Verona and Bologna to obtain information about the opening of investigations and to participate in proceedings as a plaintiff in support of inmates. A young Egyptian homeless detainee has also committed suicide in Voghera prison, the 12th suicide in 2020.

The ombudsman has received many complaints from relatives of prisoners who are finding it difficult to contact them due to the suspension of visits and malfunctioning in the telephone and video-telephone systems. This latter option should be extended to all inmates, regardless of their security levels. The countrywide limits on mobility make this practice even more important, and visits involving full separation by a glass barrier have no reason to be suspended for reasons of direct contagion.

Regarding detention centres (CPRs), the ombudsman is in dialogue with the interior ministry regarding the situation of people whose term of detention is approaching expiry, because several countries have suspended flights to and from Italy, including those to enact forced returns. Calling for early release measures to be adopted in some cases, the ombudsman evokes the possibility that detention of people whose effective return is not possible may amount to unlawful detention under the 2008 Returns Directive.

Regarding the quarantine and related monitoring, the ombudsman acknowledges that it falls within the scope of its mandate in application of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It must examine how visits and monitoring may be undertaken without breaching the quarantine and endangering the overall health security in custodial establishments. In any case, monitoring will have to take place and measures for collective health must not result in the violation of the rights of people who are in custody under a regime of quarantine.

Monitoring of conditions and practices that are deployed is also envisaged for hospices for the elderly, the limiting of visits by relatives and the risk of an increase in conflictual behaviour that may put guests and workers under stress. The ombudsman's note evokes the risk of mistreatment and misuse of containment instruments in such a context, calling for adequate monitoring.

Garante Nazionale dei diritti delle persone detenute o private della libertà, IL GARANTE NAZIONALE SULLA PRIVAZIONE DELLA LIBERTA? NEI GIORNI DEL COVID-19, 12 March 2020 (pdf)

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