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Message from the Office of the National Ombudsperson for the Rights of Detainees and Persons Deprived of their Liberty to the imprisoned population

Appeal of the president Mauro Palma to the prisoners

In Rome 21 March 2020, Mr Mauro Palma, the president of the Office of the National Ombudsperson for the Rights of Detainees and Persons Deprived of their Liberty, made an appeal to the imprisoned persons in connection with the Coronavirus emergency that has impacted Italy. “The restrictive measures adopted to contain the spread of the epidemic – the Ombudsperson said – impose, among other things, also great sufferance to the detainees, because they will not be allowed to receive visits from their relatives.”

“I turn to you, inmates – the message goes – to tell you that I understand your opposition, but I assure you that all the alternative possibilities of communication with your loved ones are being expanded. In addition to means for video communication, also cell phones are being equipping in the institutes.”

In the past days, in many prisons, hundreds of inmates had protested, also violently, showing their frustrations for the harsh measures adopted by the Executive that curtailed their possibility to meet their parents and participate in other outside activities.

The National Guarantor ensured that all national and local ombudspersons will check that these alternative means of keeping links with the family are effectively granted. The Ombudspersons have also volunteered to meet the detainees and explain the situation. The contested measures are indeed “necessary to defend the health of all us: of detainees, of their loved ones, of all those who work in prison and of the whole community”, Mr Palma concluded.

The day before this appeal, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) had published a statement of principles relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement consists of ten principles which shall be applied by all relevant authorities responsible for persons deprived of their liberty within the Council of Europe area.

Detainees are among the most affected by the COVID-19 emergency. On the one hand, they live in places where individual protecting measures, including limitation of personal contacts, can hardly be implemented, even more, where penitentiary structures are overcrowded; on the other, the confinement imposed to all citizens has harsh implications for those who are already deprived of several liberties. The issue also applies to police detention facilities, immigration detention centres, social care homes and in the newly established quarantine facilities.