Trinidad Express – Whatever became of the State’s plan to release low-risk prisons to avert the spread of Covid-19 in prisons?

The question has been asked by the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), which expressed concern that since November 6, 132 prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19.

In April 2020, a total of 121 low-risk prisoners were released, the Express reported.

According to the CCHR, the Covid-19 outbreak at this country’s prisons is a threat to the prison and to public health.

The human rights group in a news release yesterday said it continues to monitor the developments in the prisons with respect to Covid-19 and is deeply concerned.

It said that the CCHR recognises the Government’s efforts to mitigate the risk of Covid-19, however they still fall short in terms of standard practices and recommendations made by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The CCHR said it is unacceptable that seven months after the announcement by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi that the State intended to release non-violent prisoners who have committed minor offences in an effort to reduce the prison population so as to minimise the risk of Covid-19, these persons are yet to be released.

CCHR is urging the Government to take the necessary steps to protect the health of the prison population and the wider community and follow through with proposed measures to minimise the threat of Covid-19 in the prisons.

“The State assumes the duty of care for persons deprived of their liberties and it is important to note that a prisoner’s constitutional right to health and right to life is in no way diminished during the course of their incarceration,” it stated.

Prisoners are particularly vulnerable given their fragile health due to the spread of disease in the prison system, poor nutrition and limited access to healthcare, the CCHR added.

The overcrowding in the prisons and the inhumane conditions are ideal conditions for a widespread outbreak of Covid-19, CCHR said, adding that Remand remains a space that is particularly worrying given reports of up to eight persons being held in one cell. The CCHR said sanitisation and mask wearing alone will not effectively contain the spread in an overcrowded space.

“It is impossible to social distance in overcrowded prisons and places not just the prison population at risk but also the wider community because prisons do not operate in isolation,” it stated.

Recognising the risks Covid-19 poses to prisoners, Prison Officers Association president Ceron Richards has emphasised the need for a new remand facility.

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