COVID-19 and closed institutions: How OSF Armenia supports penitentiary institutions to fight the pandemic?

Nubarashen penitentiary institution.
Vaghinak Ghazaryan

Human rights are particularly susceptible in closed institutions where human freedom and public oversight are restricted. Persons in closed institutions are under the state’s care and control; hence the state is obliged to protect their life, health, and safety, to provide for living conditions that will not be degrading, and to ensure respect for dignity and human rights. As closed institutions—prisons are more exposed to COVID-19 outbreak risks. The poor sanitation and hygiene conditions in prisons, the weakened immune system of inmates, and the lack of access to medical services or delays in their provision all contribute to the possible entry and spreading of the virus in prisons, making inmates more vulnerable to COVID-19.

The protection of the life and health of persons living in closed and semi-closed institutions is more relevant and urgent especially now, as Armenia faces the COVID-19 pandemic. In view of the risks of a possible outbreak of the pandemic in such institutions, Open Society Foundations-Armenia decided to provide support to prevent spreading of the virus in penitentiary institutions and to ensure the protection of the human rights to life and health in such institutions.

This support of OSF-Armenia is extended to Armenia’s penitentiary system in a number of areas and formats. To carry out this work, OSF-Armenia cooperates with the Armenian Ministry of Justice, the National Health Institute named after academician Avdalbekyan, and the Yerevan Office of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Knowledge and training for the health care personnel of penitentiary institutions

Professional training of and the provision of knowledge for preventing and managing the pandemic to the health care personnel of closed and semi-closed institutions are crucial for preventing the virus from spreading in penitentiary institutions and for safeguarding human rights to life and health. With the support of OSF-Armenia and in coordination with the Armenian Ministry of Justice, the National Health Institute will conduct a COVID-19 prevention and infection management course and professional assistance training for the medical staff of the medical units of the Penitentiary Medicine Center state non-commercial organization, which are stationed in penitentiary institutions. Doctors and other health care professionals will be trained on the international standards and guidelines for infection prevention and management. The course content was developed by the National Health Institute. These courses, designated for health care personnel, will be mostly conducted remotely. Information booklets and posters on COVID-19 prevention will be developed and provided to the penitentiary institutions as part of the course.

Technical supplies and compliance with basic epidemiological standards within the penitentiary institutions

To properly organize the training courses designed for the medical personnel of penitentiary institutions, OSF-Armenia helped also to solve the problem of supplying the necessary computer hardware to the medical units of the Penitentiary Medicine Center, which are stationed in penitentiary institutions by donating a total of 13 computers to those units.

Disinfecting dispensers were also purchased for the penitentiary institutions. The entry and spreading of the infection in these institutions can be prevented only by safeguarding compliance with the basic epidemiological standards.

Public oversight in penitentiary institutions

The third area of OSF-Armenia’s support is related to public oversight of penitentiary institutions. The group of public observers monitoring penitentiary institutions and authorities of the Ministry of Justice, which comprises NGO representatives, has been active since 2005. The activities of the group of observers are aimed at public monitoring of the protection of rights of inmates and persons held in the custody of penitentiary authorities, improving the health and living conditions of inmates in penitentiary institutions, and publicly reporting the problems that are found. The group of public observers monitors the protection of human rights in penitentiary institutions, including the compliance of the health care personnel with safety and epidemiological rules and standards and the delivery of appropriate health care services to persons deprived of liberty.

Remote interaction between inmates and their families

Armavir penitentiary institution.
Vaghinak Ghazaryan

Due to the pandemic-induced restrictions, visits of inmates with close relatives have been limited. OSF-Armenia donated computers—two to the Armavir penitentiary institution and one to the Noubarashen penitentiary institution, thereby enhancing the existing possibilities for video-call interaction with the outside world.

OSF-Armenia will continue its efforts to help make the penitentiary institutions resilient to COVID-19 and to safeguard the right and health of persons deprived of their liberty.

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