“If coronavirus appears in prisons, all would be lost”

Kazan lawyer Kamil Ismailov on how important it is to prevent infection from entering the pre-trial detention centres and colonies

“If coronavirus appears in prisons, all would be lost”
Photo: courtesy of Kamil Ismailov

While the coronavirus pandemic and waves of public hysteria are gaining momentum, cinemas and clubs are closing, office workers are going to work remotely and self-isolation, perhaps the most vulnerable to the new infection are those who are isolated from society by court order. In Tatarstan colonies and pre-trial detention centres since the announcement of the epidemic, virtually nothing has changed, cardinal measures to prevent the spread of the virus have not been taken, according to experts familiar with the system of the Federal penitentiary service firsthand. But at the same time, an outbreak of the coronavirus in prisons and pre-trial detention centres, where prisoners are kept in cells of 6-12 people, can be the most dangerous. In the author's column for Realnoe Vremya, Kazan lawyer Kamil Ismailov agreed to talk about why in the midst of a panic, it is worth paying special attention to measures to prevent the disease in such places.

“All visitors, whether they are a lawyer or an investigator, can bring a virus to the pre-trial detention centre”

As an active lawyer, I often visit both the pre-trial detention centre and the penal colony, and communicate with prisoners, have an idea of their conditions of detention and schedule. Listening to their stories recently, I conclude that, unfortunately, no serious measures were taken in places of detention that could protect them from the coronavirus. Here, in the city, everyone follows security measures, prevention of coronavirus — restrictions are imposed on holidays, concerts, any mass gatherings. City authorities in Kazan are trying to reduce the concentration of people in public places as much as possible. There is no such thing in prisons.

I would like to stress that my appeal in any case not aimed at criticizing the actions of the authorities, but I'm sure about this topic we need to talk, now it is important to note, because people themselves in those cells cannot influence the situation inside and often don't even realize they are in danger. They need help.

In places of detention, life has remained the same: everything is as it was, and remains. All visitors, whether a lawyer, investigator, or close relative, visiting a prisoner, can bring this virus with them to the jail. And almost all prisoners in the building will be exposed to infection. Yesterday, the Federal penitentiary service suspended visits with prisoners due to the threat of coronavirus. But in Tatarstan, as well as in other regions, pre-trial detention facilities cannot prohibit visits by lawyers and investigators, this is impossible in a procedural way. They will continue to visit these places.

All visitors, whether a lawyer, investigator, or close relative, visiting a prisoner, can bring this virus with them to the jail. And almost all prisoners in the building will be exposed to infection

“There are just no places in Kazan pre-trial detention centers where prisoners could be kept in isolation”

One of the suspects I visited has been in jail since recently, so he is familiar with the situation on the coronavirus. Once on the other side, he says that all this has not affected the life of the prisoners, he says: “If I have signs, they will not be able to help me, protect me, the same thing with the neighbour in the bed, everything is in the common space.”

To judge the danger of any virus entering prisons, you need to have an understanding of the rules and conditions of detention of prisoners. There are often people who in most cases do not think much about health, until this fate overtakes them personally, so there is no panic as such in prisons. But if the coronavirus appears there, it triggers alarm.

The infection and dissemination will be instant. In the pre-trial detention centres, there are single cells, but there are also shared cells, some of them have meals in common canteens.

I'm talking particularly about pretrial detention centres because in the colonies, as a rule, people are jailed for many months or years, but the “turnover” in the centres is higher, new people constantly appear there, respectively, the probability that a new person can bring a coronavirus is much higher. Besides, there are currently no places in Kazan's pre-trial detention centres where prisoners with certain symptoms and suspicion of the same coronavirus could be kept in isolation. Medical units are all shared and, roughly speaking, are barracks with a large number of beds.

As far as I can tell, no additional disinfections have been organised. Cleanliness in them usually depends on those who live in them, prisoners actually clean their cells themselves. I think that at their request they could have been provided with antiseptics, but, in my memory, I have not yet come across someone asking for, for example, bleach for cleaning. They don't think much about it on the other side, and they don't have as much information as they can get. The main message I want to convey is that if there is a fire there, it will not be extinguished.

We would like to see people in prison treated the same way as other citizens when an epidemic occurs. They have the right to the same protection and care of the authorities, ensuring conditions of detention in safety

“Many people can suffer in prisons, including a huge number of people with the immunodeficiency virus”

The occurrence of the coronavirus in prisons can have much greater consequences for prisoners than for ordinary people. And not only because they themselves are limited in their actions and will not be able to help themselves, they can turn to competent doctors in hospitals in time. Many people may suffer in prisons because there are a huge number of people with the immunodeficiency virus, tuberculosis, and other chronic diseases who are initially weakened, often do not receive good nutrition and medication, and as a result, are most susceptible to diseases. The death rate from coronavirus in prisons can be many times higher than in cities.

We would like to see people in prison treated the same way as other citizens when an epidemic occurs. They have the right to the same protection and care of the authorities, ensuring conditions of detention in safety.

Speaking about what needs to be done, I am sure that today at least it is necessary to provide places of detention with a supply of medicines and antiseptics for treatment, more thorough hygiene of prisoners, at least the possibility for this. It is important to disinfect common areas and separate rooms of the remand prison, to make sure that lawyers and investigators have a mandatory medical examination at the entrance, to measure the temperature before meeting with prisoners, and to create conditions for isolating prisoners who have symptoms of illness.

By Kamil Ismailov, prepared by Olga Golyzhbina. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
Tatarstan