PROTECT PEOPLE IN CUSTODY AND IN INSTITUTIONS
COVID-19, like other infectious diseases, poses a higher risk to populations that live in close proximity to each other for example in Ibadan or those who live in Batcher in Northern Nigeria no thanks to a poor urban and regional planning system in Nigeria. This disproportionately affects older people and individuals with underlying illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and hypertension. Eighty percent of the people who have died of COVID-19 in China were over the age of 60. Nigeria first fatality was well above 60 with immunodeficiency owing to underlining ailments.
This risk is particularly acute in places of detention, such as prisons, jails, and immigration detention centres, as well as residential institutions for people with disabilities and nursing facilities for older people, where the virus can spread rapidly, especially if access to health care is already poor. States have an obligation to ensure medical care for those in their custody is at least equivalent to that available to the general population, and must not deny detainees, including asylum seekers or undocumented migrants, equal access to preventive, curative or palliative health care. Asylum seekers, refugees living in camps, and people experiencing homelessness may also be at increased risk because of their lack of access to adequate water and hygiene facilities.
Recommendations: Government agencies with authority over people housed in prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers should consider reducing their population through appropriate supervised or early release of low-risk category of detainees for example, those whose scheduled release may be soon, those who are in pre-trial detention for non-violent and lesser offenses or whose continued detention is similarly unnecessary or not justified. Nigerian Correctional Services should look into its Act especially for aspects that empower it to free those in detention without trial for more than three months.
Detained individuals at high risk of suffering serious effects from the virus such as older people and people with underlying health conditions, should also be considered for similar release with regard to whether the detention facility has the capacity to protect their health, guarantee access to treatment, and take into consideration factors such as the gravity of the crime committed and time served.
If safe and legal deportations are suspended due to the virus, the legal justification for detaining people pending deportation may no longer exist. In these cases, authorities should release detainees and institute alternatives to detention.
Authorities that operate prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers should publicly disclose their plans of action to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection in their facilities and the steps that will be taken to contain the infection and protect prisoners, prison staff, and visitors. Iran had released 85,000 of her inmates; US also set free 37,000 persons held in immigration detention with further instruction from California Governor suspending further detainees in its juvenile facilities. It is on record that minimum of 73 inmates and 58 staff of Correctional Custody Service in New York City has contracted the virus. In Africa, some nations have set free those in detentions and prisons including Tunisia 1420, Libya 450, Niger Republic 1540, and Ethiopia 4000 etc.