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COVID-19 & detention

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the structural deficiencies and systemic inequalities in our prison systems, and the urgent need to reform them.

Overcrowding is a long-standing problem in many prisons across the globe and has made social distancing difficult or impossible. Prisons have very quickly become epicentres for the pandemic, putting the lives and health of prisoners and staff at risk. Thankfully, many countries have taken important preliminary steps to reduce prison overcrowding including by offering early releases.

Read our updates and commentary pieces about prisoner releases.

However, these programmes have often excluded people held in pre-trial detention. Their detention has even been prolonged due to court closures and delays. This not only violates the right to liberty and the presumption of innocence, but it also contributes significantly to prison overcrowding. Fair Trials has published recommendations to reduce the number of people being held in pre-trial detention who make up a huge proportion of the prison population in many countries. We’ve also produced template applications for lawyers to use for the release of people in pre-trial detention, based on the relevant human rights arguments in Europe and Latin America.

Read our updates and commentary pieces about extended pre-trial detention.

Prisons conditions have also worsened during the pandemic. Lockdown measures have increased detainees’ isolation and affected their mental health. For example, detainees have not been able to have visitors, and in some cases have not been provided with alternative means of communication. In Latin America, this is a particular issue, because it is often families that provide detainees with food and sanitary products. Fair Trials and the Europe-wide network of civil society organisations JUSTICIA have set out recommendations for protecting human rights in places of detention in Europe during the COVID-19 crisis.

Read our updates and commentary pieces about prison conditions.

The pandemic has also disrupted prison monitoring programmes, making it difficult to assess whether appropriate steps have been taken to protect the life and health of prisoners and to document any wrongdoing.

Read our updates and commentary pieces prison monitoring.

Keep up to date

COVID-19 Justice Project Newsletter

Activities in the following sections on this website are supported by the Justice Programme of the European Union: Legal Experts Advisory Panel, Defence Rights Map, Case Law Database, Advice Guides and Latest News. More information about our financial supporters is available here.