Learn from others
780 prison employees of the Georgian Special Penitentiary Service (SPS) worked and lived two months in prison without the possbility to meet their families and friends. This way they prevented a COVID-19 outbreak among people who are incarcerated, including those who are enrolled in drug treatment programmes.
Ministry of Justice of Georgia (MoJ) and Special Penitentiary Service (SPS) acknowledged the risk of the possible spread of COVID-19 among the people deprived of liberty. Therefore, shortly following the identification of the very first COVID-19 case in Georgia on February 26, 2020, different proactive and preventive measures were introduced within the SPS.
In line with the relevant Georgian legislation, the Director General of the Special Penitentiary Service (DG) issued the Order N4109 and announced the Special Conditions within Georgian penitentiary system on March 5, 2020. The period of Special Conditions within the penitentiary system of Georgia has been extended since March 5 2020 twice and remained in force till May 22, 2020. The following conditions were applied:
- The visiting arrangements (short-term visits, long-term visits, family visits) in penitentiary establishments (PEs) for convicts and remands were restricted;
- Inmates’ rights to short leave from the facility and the right to temporary leave from the PEs in case of special personal circumstances were also restricted;
- In case of absolute necessity, the visits were held with glass barriers that had been installed in every facility in March. Personal protective equipment (medical face masks, facial shields, gowns, shoe covers) was mandatory during the meetings. The visitors were also subject to thermo-screening before entering the facility;
- Since March 5, 2020, investigators, advocates, prosecutors, experts and any other visitors had also been required to privilege online meetings with the inmates and, in case they still decide to visit, to wear the above-mentioned protective equipment whilst entering the PEs;
- Only the members of the Public Defender’s Office / National Preventive Mechanism and CPT retained unlimited rights to visit the prison facilities with the special protective equipment. Regularly, the representatives of PDO and NPM visit different facilities, and lastly on May 6, 7 and 8, 2020, they enjoyed their right and visited N2, N5, N6, N8, N16 and N17 PEs;
- Newly arrived convicts/remand prisoners undergo appropriate screening in medical wards specially arranged outside the perimeter of PEs and are placed separately from other inmates for 21 days. For that reason, special medical wards were arranged in early March;
- On March 29, 2020, 780 employees of the PEs – inspectors and security officers, were chosen from the staff on a voluntary basis in order to remain on the working place without leaving the territory of PEs. Hence, the proper living areas had been specifically arranged for this staff and the periods for being on duty had been predefined. Their monthly salaries were doubled. On May 23, 2020 this staff went on rotation and they were replaced by those staff members of SPS, who had not been working during the respective period (though they continued to be paid). They also underwent 3-weeks quarantine period in the private hotels rented by the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia and got ready for work. Before going to workplaces in PEs in May, they underwent the PCR test. It should be noted that such a rotation system has never been experienced in the Georgian penitentiary system and was put in place as a special measure to fight the COVID-19;
- Since March 20, 2020, the rest of the staff of PEs who keep going home (doctors and nurses) were screened on a daily basis before they enter the facility;
- Since April 7, 2020, technical staff of the PEs (administrators, legal staff, special registry staff, clerks, financial staff, receptionists, etc.) were placed outside the perimeter of the PEs, in specially arranged working places within public reception area. Their working environment had been fully adapted and equipped with all necessary arrangements, including installing of the special networks for the specific tasks. During abovementioned period, 157 employees in all 15 PEs did not enter in the prison facilities;
- On March 24, 2020, the entry of the private company staff responsible for cleaning services in the facilities has been restricted. The staff of PEs was mandated to clean the relevant spaces themselves with special hygienic and disinfection materials provided by the private cleaning company;
- 75 inmates replaced the elderly staff of the relevant private company working in the PE kitchens in order to prevent the possible spread of virus in PEs. All of the inmates get paid;
- The staff of the private shops in the PEs kept working without leaving the territory of the PEs;
- On March 24, 2020, taking out of inmates from PEs to courthouses was restricted and SPS ensured participation of prisoners to distance court hearings;
- Distance learning services were available for 22 juvenile offenders held in N11 PE following the distance learning model put in place for children in Georgia by the Ministry of Education.
Thanks to these prompt and well-coordinated responses to the virus, Georgian penitentiary system managed to avoid the spread of COVID-19 among prisoners and staff. As of June 26, 2020, there is no single COVID-19 case confirmed in Georgian PEs.
In order to compensate for the restrictions imposed on the family visits, upon the initiative of the Justice Minister, since March 16, 2020 inmates had 15 minutes free of charge phone calls. Since April 22, 2020, with the financial assistance of the Delegation to the International Committee of the Red Cross to Georgia, inmates enjoyed additional 20 minutes free of charge phone calls per month. In total, in May inmates had 35 minutes free of charge phone calls.
The article and video were submitted to us by the Ministry of Justice of Georgia (MoJ). We thank them for sharing this information.