Irish Penal Reform Trust

PRI: Preventing harm and human rights violations in criminal justice systems

14th July 2020

Penal Reform International’s (PRI) new briefing considers how criminal justice systems around the world are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it is impacting on people serving custodial and community sanctions. The briefing also outlines what actions can be taken to prevent and address harm and human rights violations; both immediately, and longer-term.

This briefing builds on PRI’s March briefing, Coronavirus: Healthcare and human rights of people in prison, which looked at considerations to prevent outbreaks in prisons. This briefing analyses the impact of measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and issues recommendations for immediate and systemic reform.

The measures intended to prevent, or address outbreaks of coronavirus have made time in prison much harsher and in some cases have violated the rights of people in custody. Overincarceration and a focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation and health are causes of infection and deaths in places of detention. While measures can be introduced now to mitigate infection, systemic and long-term reform is needed to prevent a situation like this from happening again.

The briefing examines common themes emerging from penal systems internationally, inluding: a lack of collected and/or published disaggregate data in order to inform policy and practice; lack of priority for prison testing; prolonged isolation; severely restricted contact with the outside world; failures to incorporate a women-specific approach; suspended independent inspections; (some) exceptional early release mechanisms; and an increased reliance on non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment.

Read Penal Reform International’s Coronavirus: Preventing harm and human rights violations in criminal justice systems here.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.

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