UNODC scales up its support to Southeast Asian prison systems in response to COVID-19

Bangkok (Thailand), 25 June 2020
- With growing attention being paid to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in prison systems, UNODC has been scaling up its support in Southeast Asia by providing critical protective and medical items, technical guidance and policy support.

Prisons in in the region are generally very overcrowded with prisoners living, working, eating and sleeping in strictly confined areas. As a result, the health profile of inmates tends to be poor compared with the general population, aggravating the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak.

In Myanmar, prisons are well known to be outdated and overcrowded, and unable to provide sufficient personal space. In response, UNODC and other UN agencies have advised the Government, contributing to the April Presidential Pardon of a quarter of the prison population. UNODC has also provided ‘release packages’ for newly discharged prisoners with essential health information and personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks. At the same time, UNODC has also worked with the Government of Myanmar on immediate and medium-term plans to improve preparedness, along with direct provision of critical supplies of PPE to prisons in different parts of the country.

The Philippines currently has one of the most overcrowded prison systems in the world with an occupancy rate of over 400%. The situation has been further compounded by nationwide lockdown measures, with some people who have violated lockdown and quarantine procedures placed in temporary detention. Prisoners have asked the Supreme Court for temporary freedom, citing risks from COVID-19. UNODC has provided PPE to be distributed to prisons in Manila, and is developing policies on early release of prisoners and community reintegration together with the Government and WHO.

In Indonesia, UNODC has developed COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures for prison officials to mitigate outbreaks in facilities while PPE has been delivered to correctional facilities in Jakarta.

And in Thailand, UNODC has engaged with the Privy Council and the Ministry of Justice on how the prison system can effectively cope with the pandemic, and discussed future plans and programming including sentencing reforms to alleviate overcrowding.

With engagement and support in these countries ongoing, additional assistance is planned for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao of the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Timor-Leste. And while PPE and medical items are being procured and provided, UNODC is also translating and disseminating WHO’s “Preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention" guidelines in Myanmar, and a long-term assistance programme to further equip and reform prison systems in South and Southeast Asia is being prepared.

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