Prisoners around the world are being neglected during the pandemic, says the group, warning that governments all over the world are not doing enough to keep prisoners safe from Covid-19.
With more than 11 million people imprisoned globally, detention centres risk becoming hotbeds for the coronavirus in many countries, Amnesty International warned.
Reviewing how 69 governments responded to Covid-19 in detention facilities around the world, a report by the organisation called on the governments to prioritise vaccinating prisoners and prison staff.
Inmates, who are said to struggle accessing products like soap in their facilities, often don't have an option to physically distance themselves from others. In the absence of proper sanitation, they are not even provided with basic protective equipment such as medical masks. Many responses to prevent the spread of the virus on the other hand have been either insufficient or excessive to a point that has led to human rights abuses, the report, “Forgotten behind bars: Covid-19 and prisons” said.
“As COVID-19 continues to rip through prisons across the world, measures introduced by governments to prevent the spread of the disease have led to human rights violations, including the use of excessive solitary confinement to aid social distancing and inadequate measures to reduce the detrimental effects of isolation,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director.
While the Covid-19 death toll remains unknown due to unreliable reporting or a lack of reporting of deaths by governments, the available data points out that the spread of the virus has been devastating in prisons.
Health crisis vs excessive control measures
Amnesty’s Belay says everyone deserves access to face masks and necessary sanitising items, free of charge, as well as testing. But the report reveals that unwilling or unable to do so, many prisons have failed to provide these basic preventative health measures.
The prisons in Cambodia, France, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Togo and the USA were among those countries whose jail centres lacked necessary precautions, the organisation said.
Some other countries, including Cambodia, Egypt, India, Iran, Italy, Madagascar, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and Sri Lanka followed an opposite policy in tackling the situation - it has led to abuses. The most common practice that was followed by countries, including Argentina and the UK, was to put the detainees in excessive isolation for up to 23 hours per day, or a time period of some months.
“In some cases, these could amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Humane measures to protect prisoners must be put in place now,” said Belay.
While the isolation measures took a mental toll on prisoners, in some detention centres the ban on visitors also added a layer of hardship for them.
“While some prison authorities have retained visits by adapting conditions, others have resorted to banning visitors, effectively depriving detainees from their lifeline to the outside world and undermining their emotional and physical wellbeing,” Belay said.
Denying people treatment due to their political positions has also been a concern during that period, the report noted.
Amnesty’s report says many countries, including high-income ones, are yet to disclose their plans on considering the prison population as a clinically vulnerable group. At least 71 countries have disclosed their vaccination strategy, but not all of them prioritise prisoners for vaccination.
The lack of clear policy regarding prisons, has led to a neglect in the health of people who populate them. This must stop, Belay says. Lack of clarity about vaccination plans, policies and treatment of incarcerated populations is a pressing, global concern, he says.
On an international level, Amnesty International is also calling on a number of United Nations members to step up their efforts to secure vaccines for prisoners, as well as suggesting the World Health Organisation must ensure everyone has access to health products. They must also see to it that high-risk groups are prioritised.