20 April 2020 – The rapid spread of COVID-19 around the world has demonstrated that everyone is susceptible to the ravages of this virus, with some population groups more at risk than others depending on their age and health conditions. While these factors have been widely publicized, there are some groups which remain less visible in the public eye, but which are nevertheless an integral part of society; prisoners, for whom social distancing is not an option in tight spaces, are unable to take the same precautions as most other members of society.
UNODC’s mission to promote crime prevention and criminal justice, amongst others, places strong value on the social rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners. As the guardian of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, commonly known as the Nelson Mandela rules, UNODC provides practical guidance and assistance to the prison administrations of Member States, helping them develop sustainable programmes which meet international standards.
In the specific context of this pandemic, UNODC has issued several policy guidance notes, including with the World Health Organization, on “COVID-19 preparedness and responses in prisons.”
In Namibia, through its Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration, UNODC has recently launched a rehabilitation project which is particularly relevant to the struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic: a soap production facility at the Windhoek Correctional Facility.
The project aims at improving inmates’ vocational skills, giving them better opportunities upon their release to reintegrate successfully into society, thereby reducing the chance of recidivism. At the same time, the manufacturing of soap and detergent within the prison has facilitated access to better hygiene, a factor which has become even more critical mere weeks after the launch of this project, with the advent of the global pandemic. In support of the Namibian Correctional Service’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prison settings, the project will now also start producing hand sanitizer liquid solutions to bolster prevention measures.
In addition to enabling the production of cleaning products, the correctional facility has been actively promoting and facilitating hand washing and environmental hygiene. Hand washing stations have been placed at the prison entrance for staff to wash their hands with soap and water when entering the facility, and at various strategic points throughout to enable staff and prisoners alike to wash their hands regularly and protect themselves and others from infection.
The prison administration has also implemented risk assessment and mitigation measures, which include the screening of staff as they begin duty and the temporary suspension of visitations to the facility. To enable prisoners to maintain contact with their loved ones in these exceptional circumstances, however, inmates have been given call cards. In addition, educational sessions are being conducted by the prison’s healthcare providers, and information about COVID-19 is presented on a daily basis to staff. Isolation rooms have also been organized for inmates presenting signs of infection, to provide for the necessary medical care immediately.
The implementation of similar precautionary measures in correctional establishments is crucial to the containment of the pandemic, and UNODC remains committed to supporting prison administrations’ rehabilitation programmes, to benefit prisoners and society at large.