Public Defender's Report on Ad Hoc Monitoring at Establishment No 17
On April 30, 2020, as well as on May 1 and 7, in the context of the novel coronavirus epidemic in Georgia, the Public Defender and members of the Special Preventive Group paid an ad hoc visit to Penitentiary Establishment No 17.
The monitoring revealed that the biggest challenge in terms of controlling the infection inside the establishment is the size of the establishment and crowded cells, in the vast majority of which, convicts are not provided with 4 sq.m. of personal space as required by law. It is impossible to keep physical distancing or to properly protect sanitary conditions in the cells. Thus, in the context of the pandemic, it has become even more urgent to implement the recommendation made by the Public Defender years ago and endorsed by the Ministry of Justice on transformation of large institutions into small ones.
Due to the introduction of special conditions in the facility, the volume of medical services has also been limited. In particular, doctors’ visits have been cancelled and medical referrals have been decreased. At the same time, the number of medical staff, especially nurses, has significantly decreased after the reorganization, which may have a negative impact on the provision of timely and adequate medical care.
Isolation from the outside world for a long time may have a negative impact on the rights situation of convicts. Therefore, in order to ensure a higher degree of protection against the novel coronavirus, it is necessary to draft a document to assess the risks of spreading the infection and to devise a plan to overcome the risks. We believe that the reduction of the number of prisoners should be considered and effective measures should be taken to control the infection in the establishments, which would help protect the rights of prisoners, reduce the workload of employees and facilitate the normal functioning of the establishment.
Although the main focus of the monitoring was to study the epidemiological situation and living conditions, the attention of the Special Preventive Group was also drawn by the behavior of a certain group of convicts, who interfered with the communication between the members of the Group and other convicts and tried to remove the convicts who wanted to speak about problems.
Based on the monitoring results, in general, the Special Preventive Group positively evaluates the caution shown by the Special Penitentiary Service and the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as the fact that no cases of novel coronavirus infection have been reported at the facility. Particular attention should be paid to the dedication of the employees who have not left the closed facilities for the purpose of preventing the spread of the virus and continue to perform their duties under the conditions of complete isolation.
The monitoring report was sent to the Director General of the Special Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia on May 28, 2020, who was asked to submit information on the consideration and implementation of the recommendations included in the report.
It is noteworthy that the Public Defender's Office continued to monitor the closed institution during the crisis, by observing all safety measures, which has been praised in the textbook published by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and the Association for the Prevention of Torture.
 The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), Guidance – Monitoring Places of Detention through the COVID-19 Pandemic, p. 10, available at: https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/7/5/453543.pdf [last accessed on: 03.06.20].