The People’s Advocates recommend to the authorities to take emergency measures to release certain categories of detainees, including minors, by applying the most appropriate solutions, so that the number of persons in detention is considerably reduced.
In an endeavor submitted on behalf of the President of the Commission for Exceptional Situations and the minister of Justice, People’s Advocates draw attention upon the fact that, in the case of the spread of the epidemic in prisons, the situation will not be under control at all. The medical units in the prisons have no possibility to offer hospital care and intensive care conditions, and the prison hospital does not possess the capacity to provide the necessary medical assistance for all of the infected inmates, in case of spreading COVID-19. At the same time, the already overcrowded public health and medical institutions will face a new challenge – the need to create the conditions for ensuring the permanent custody of the detained inmates.
The endeavor also emphasizes that maintaining health in detention institutions is not only in the interests of persons deprived of freedom, but also in the interest of the community. If the risks related to COVID-19 are not approached in detention facilities, the outbreak may extend into the community. Ombudsmen note that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, has called on governments to take urgent measures to protect the health and safety of detained persons as part of general measures taken to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Covid-19 has started to hit penitentiaries, prisons and detention centers for immigrants, residential care units and psychiatric hospitals, and is likely to wreak havoc on the extremely vulnerable populations of these institutions,” said Bachelet.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on governments and competent authorities to work promptly in order to reduce the number of detentions, noting that several countries have already taken some positive action. Authorities should examine ways to release the particularly vulnerable to detention at COVID-19, among them, older and sick detainees, as well as, offenders at low risk. They should also provide for specific health care requirements of detained women, including those who are pregnant, as well as, prisoners with disabilities and juvenile detainees.
The UN Office for Human Rights and the World Health Organization have issued a provisional guidance document – COVID 19: Concentration on persons deprived of liberty – containing key messages and actions for other UN agencies, governments and relevant authorities, national human rights institutions and civil society.
At European level, a number of illnesses and deaths in prisons have already been reported due to COVID-19 infection. In this regard, the Commissioner of the Council of Europe for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, urges all the member states of the Council of Europe to use all available alternatives for detention whenever possible. The use of alternatives to deprivation of liberty is imperative in overcrowding situations and especially in emergency cases. Special attention should be paid to prisoners with poor health, the elderly who do are not a threatening for society and those accused of committing less serious crimes. The reduction of the prison population is crucial throughout Europe, in order to ensure the efficient implementation of the sanitary regulations, and to ease the increasing pressure on the prison staff and on the penitentiary system as a whole, the Commissioner of the Council of Europe’s Human Rights message states.
Thus, several states have already initiated the procedure for the release of detainees from custody on the grounds of overcrowding, but also because of the impossibility of efficiently ensuring the measures to protect their health in confined spaces. They adapt their criminal justice policies to reduce the population of the penitentiaries by different means, including temporary or early release from detention, amnesty, pardon, home detention, commutation of punishments, suspension of prosecution, postponement of punishments enforcement, etc.
Currently, more than 6600 persons are detained within the penitentiary system. Overcrowding of prisons in the Republic of Moldova is an obvious fact, recognized by the authorities. Currently, in conditions of less than 4m2 per person, approximately 4,150 convicts are detained, and in conditions of more than 4 m2 – about 2619 convicts. The detention ceiling established by the NPA prison institutions is 6735 places.
It has been repeatedly mentioned that all the penitentiaries in the country are of an old architecture, with a structure that is not adapted for detention of persons. In addition, there are a number of problems related to the medical system in detention facilities. In the existing circumstances, it is obvious the risk of the pandemic spreading in the penitentiary institutions of the Republic of Moldova, as well as, in other detention institutions.
The People’s Advocates are of the opinion that the release of some categories of convicts from detention institutions, in order to avoid overcrowding and the risk of spreading the COVID-19 pandemic in penitentiaries could have a beneficial, necessary, proportionate, immediate and effective impact on the situation as a whole, but also on the public budget.
The legislation of the Republic of Moldova already offers solutions in this regard: release from criminal punishment, conviction with conditional suspension of sentence enforcement, conditional release before the punishment term, replacement of the non-executed part of the sentence with a milder sentence, release of minors’ punishment, release from enforcement of punishments of seriously ill persons, amnesty, pardon. Some of these tools could also be applied during the epidemic by modifying the Criminal Code, so that under the release of the enforcement of punishments several categories of persons fall, such as, for example: people who are not dangerous to society; persons convicted for the first time, depending on the seriousness of the committed offense; persons who are already 60 years old and above; persons with inabilities or disabilities of grades I and II; detainees with serious and incurable diseases; detainees who served 2/3 of the sentence, depending on the seriousness of the crime. Also, at the discretion of the prison commission, the instruments listed above could also be applied to prisoners sentenced to life, who have served 30 years in detention and have had a decent behavior (they did not violate the regime) within the prison.
Other instruments could be applied by special acts, which have the effect of removing the criminal responsibility or the punishment either by reducing the punishment applied or commuting it (amnesty); total or partial release from the punishment set or commutation of the sentence imposed (pardon).
Based on the foregoing, in order to prevent the spread of the epidemic in the penitentiary system, the People’s Advocates recommend that emergency measures should be applied, in order to release certain categories of detainees, including minors, by applying the most appropriate solutions, so that the number of people is considerably reduced in detention.
2020/ 04 /08
Department of human rights promotion
Department for prevention of torture