UNODC's agile training approach fosters prevention and control of COVID-19 in the prisons of Sindh

17 April 2020, Online - Minimising transmission of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) among the prison inmates is a critical challenge faced by the Prison Departments across Pakistan. The prison quarters and correctional facilities are largely overcrowded to enable and enforce preventive measures through social distancing. The inmates live in close proximity to each other, share toilets and showers without observing personal hygiene, like handwashing and sanitation. In addition, chances of identifying and isolating the infected inmates through quarantine are limited without proactive planning and implementation of COVID-sensitive administrative and pre-emptive measures.

The extraordinary nature of the crisis calls for extraordinary measures. The UNODC’s Criminal Justice and Legal Reforms Sub-Programme-II together with Drug Demand Reduction, Prevention and Treatment Sub-Programme-III have geared up to the challenge through swift and time-sensitive planning in collaboration with the Prisons Department of the Government of Sindh. The partnership has resulted in piloting an agile and collaborative training module through the use of smart technologies of Microsoft Teams and Zoom. The first training session of the online module was launched on 14 April 2020 and the response from the counterparts has been encouraging. The technology interface is serving as a bridge to cut through the barrier of physical distancing to engage and bring together senior leaderships, critical decision-makers and prison administration as one collaborative team to lend an ear and expertise to devise measures for prevention and control of COVID-19 outbreak in the prisons of Sindh.

The training module is designed with the objective to sensitise and orientate a cadre of key stakeholders as ‘change agents’ and ‘policy champions’ for prevention, control and mitigation of the risks associated with the transmission of the COVID-19 into the prisons. The sessions are developed and delivered by UNODC’s technical experts to educate the participants on the critical nature of infectious diseases with knowledge and understanding of the international and national laws, regimes and best practices that govern and guide the protection measures for the vulnerable population of the prisoners, including Nelson Mandela Rules, Sindh Epidemic Act 2014 and Sindh Prison Rules 2020.

The participants shared their experiences and highlighted critical issues that need to be addressed in a timely manner. Suggestions included documentation of standard operating procedures on segregation standards related to quarantine and related aspects, particularly for managing women and juveniles, allocation of budget and human resources to plan and implement targeted measures.

The training intervention has received an affirmative response from the counterparts in the Prison Department, Sindh with appreciation of the opportunity to learn how to control the pandemic. Based on the lessons, the modules will be taken to scale and replicated for other provinces too for the larger benefit of the prison population in Pakistan.