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COVID-19: UNODC tasks Nigeria on protection of prison inmates

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The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has tasked state and federal government on the protection of prison inmates from the Corona Virus pandemic.

In a message titled, ‘Leaving No One Behind: Protecting People in Prions From COVID-19’, the National Project Officer, Outreach and Communications, UNODC Nigeria Country Office, Mr. Sylvester Tunde Atere, urged that as the government intensifies efforts at containing the further spread of the disease, it should also take into consideration, the vulnerable segment of the society, particularly prison inmates across the country.

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He expressed worries that beyond congestion, the prison population has a weaker health profile, making them particularly vulnerable to communicable diseases such as COVID-19.

The statement reads in part: “As governments at federal and state levels are ramping up their capacities to prevent further spread of the virus, provide for testing and contact tracing, expanding isolation and treatment facilities as well attempt at mitigating impacts of its measures on the indigenous population and the economy, there are a number of segments of the society that are particularly vulnerable but are not yet at the centre of attention.

“One of such groups are people in prisons and in other places of detention.

“While controlling access might be easier in such environments, once the virus has reached a prison, as it has happened already in several other countries, preventing its further spread is significantly harder.”

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Describing the call for social distancing in an overcrowded space as close to impossible, UNODC feared that the situation in Nigerian prisons exposes not only the detainees but also, prison staff at higher risk of infection.

“The office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, as well as the Nigerian Presidential Committee for the decongestion of the Correctional Centers, are presently evaluating multiple options to decongest prisons.

“Options include to accelerate the release of those convicted or accused of minor offences as well as those whose sentence would be completed in the near future.”

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He, therefore, called for urgent action, stressing that “this is the right moment to test the newly established framework for providing alternatives to detention.

“At the same time, this is the right time to take a look at the health services accessible to prisoners.

“Thus, the deployment of personal protective equipment, basic medical equipment and medicines as well as training for prison health workers as part of the overall effort to respond to the pandemic are of paramount importance.”

“In order to support countries in their efforts, UNODC has collected a range of tools aimed at preventing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in prisons which have been developed by various actors in the course of the past weeks and days.”

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