Irish Penal Reform Trust

SPT issues follow-up advice relating to COVID-19

24th June 2021

The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) has published new advice to States parties and national preventive mechanisms relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SPT is an international monitoring body, made up of impartial experts, established to carry out functions in the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). Ireland signed the OPCAT in 2007 but has not ratified it. As such, the SPT does not yet conduct monitoring visits to Ireland.

The present advice complements the previous advice issued by the Subcommittee, and it is to serve as an instrument to evaluate both the measures implemented and the impact of those measures on persons deprived of liberty.

The SPT summarizes the measures taken to adapt in certain penal justice systems, but also expresses its concern regarding certain measures taken by States and the lack of political will to implement its recommendations.

Among the issues of concern, the Subcommittee notes: [emphasis added]

  • Disproportionate tightening of security in many places of deprivation of liberty, including long periods spent locked up in the cells, excessive use of isolation measures and suspension of communication with the outside world;
  • Suspension of all existing forms of home leave for persons deprived of liberty;
  • Lack of adequate information provided to persons deprived of liberty, their families, staff and others, regarding the situation resulting from the pandemic and the measures taken in each place of deprivation of liberty;
  • Lack of implementation of alternative measures to imprisonment, especially in cases of short custodial sanctions.

In response, the Subcommittee urges all States to: [emphasis added]

  • Include in the national vaccination programme, with priority, all persons deprived of liberty, all personnel, including medical, security, social, administrative and other personnel, of places of deprivation of liberty and staff of the national preventive mechanism;
  • Improve the environment in areas of quarantine inside places of deprivation of liberty so that they do not correspond to places of solitary confinement, and compensate for the social isolation by using any means to improve social and family contact;
  • Strengthen the efforts to consider the particular needs of women, juveniles, persons with disabilities, and LGBTIQ+ persons deprived of liberty, and since the pandemic exacerbates their vulnerability, assess the possibility of alternatives to detention;
  • Ensure that persons deprived of their liberty whose mental health is affected by COVID-19 measures, including those persons in quarantine, in medical isolation units, in psychiatric hospitals or in places of detention, receive adequate counselling and psychosocial support.

Read the follow-up advice in full here.

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