Some of the most common complaints persons deprived of liberty have sent to Ombudswoman Lora Vidović in the recent years, have been related to the inaccessibility of adequate health care and inadequate accommodation conditions the prison system. The overcrowding has been on the rise for the past four years, and in only three of a total of fourteen prisons, in high-security wards the capacity is below 100 percent, while in six it is over 120 percent, which is considered critical by the standards of the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC).
The coronavirus epidemic further complicates the already complex situation, being one of the reasons the Ombudswoman was approached by several concerned family members of inmates, complaining of not having disinfectants, hot water or adequate conditions for keeping social distance, which are the basic preconditions for effective prevention of the spread of the infection.
Therefore, the Ombudswoman requested information from the Ministry of Justice regarding the preventive measures for protection against COVID-19 infections of persons deprived of liberty, as well as of employees in the prison system. Moreover, she has asked penal institutions to provide information whether they have difficulties in implementing such measures. According to the information gathered so far, they are in constant contact with the regional Public Health Institutes and the Regional Civil Protection Authorities. In order to ensure the implementation of adequate measures, the Croatian Public Health Institute (HZJZ) published recommendations for the conduct of the judicial police officers and Regulation Act for the Prevention and Suppression of the Coronavirus Epidemic (COVID-19) in the Prison System Bodies, and the Ministry of Justice had further elaborated certain measures.
Persons deprived of liberty are in a particularly vulnerable position since they cannot control the conditions they are in, nor can they provide themselves with everything needed for prevention against the epidemic. Therefore, consistent implementation of the prevention measures in penitentiaries is particularly important, since only one infected person, due to the closed conditions, could probably jeopardize the health of many inmates and staff.
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