A document sent to the state Court of Justice includes the opinions of specialists from Italy, Ireland and the United States on health in the prison system during the pandemic

The first prisoner to die of Covid-19 in Brazil was recorded in Rio de Janeiro, April (Photo: Reproduction) The first prisoner to die of Covid-19 in Brazil was recorded in Rio de Janeiro, April (Photo: Reproduction)

Last Saturday, 20 June, the organisations Conectas Human Rights and Elas Existem issued a request for the Rio Justice Court to take action regarding the pandemic in prisons given the alarming number of cases of Covid-19 in the Rio de Janeiro prison system and the collapse of the state health service. The request also had the support of the North American organisation Open Society Justice Initiative.

The document was submitted to an action presented by the Rio de Janeiro Public Prosecutor´s Office and the state Public Defender´s Office, who called for urgent protective measures to improve prison conditions. Specialist doctors associated with the North American organisation, Physicians for Human Rights, the Penal Reform Trust from Ireland and the Italian organisation Antigone also contributed to the request with statements.

“The aim of this action is to guarantee minimum basic conditions in facing the pandemic in prisons. There is a consensus among public health specialists that a lack of state action at this time could endanger society as a whole.” Explained Henrique Apolinario, lawyer on the Conectas programme Facing Institutional Violence.

The groups are re-stating the recommendations to states by international organs, such as the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) and the WHO (World Health Organisation). 

These recommendations include the protection of people deprived of liberty and people working in prison units, not just by reducing the prison population and ensuring physical distancing, but also by looking into systemic problems, like overcrowding, poor sanitation and absent or inadequate health services. The SPT also advised governments against the use of solitary confinement as a means of medical isolation.

“The Covid-19 crisis has made it an urgent matter for governments to find alternatives to incarceration and to take seriously their legal responsibility to protect the health and lives of people in custody.” Said Masha Lisitsyna, legal officer of the North American organisation Open Society Justice Initiative. “As highlighted by judicial decisions in Mexico, Argentina and the United States, the judiciary and other independent state organs play a critical role in guaranteeing that human rights are protected in prisons and detention centres worldwide.”

Brazil has one of the largest and most overstretched penitentiary systems in the worlds, after only the United States and China. Recently, the country overtook Italy and now has the third highest death rate for Covid-19 in the world.

Access here the document sent to the Rio de Janeiro Court of Justice

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