Prisoners in OPT and the US fear for their...
According to Middle East Eye, fear and panic have characterised much of the past 10 days in the occupied West Bank, as the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb. By Friday, the Palestinian Ministry of Health confirmed that the number of official cases had risen to 35, 34 of them in the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem. But just as the measures taken by the government to stop the spread of the virus began to restore some sense of calm, Palestinians woke up to more dreadful news: the coronavirus had reached Israeli prisons, where thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are held.
The Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Committee reported that one prisoner from Ashkelon prison had come into contact with an Israeli doctor who had tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian media reported that there were suspected cases of the virus in two other prisons: Ramleh prison in central Israel, and the Moscobiya detention centre in Jerusalem. Palestinians, however, are concerned that the Israeli government and prison authorities are not taking the proper measures to prevent the spread of the virus and treat those who may become sick. “The Israeli prisons are notoriously old, dirty, overcrowded, and lacking in basic hygiene supplies,” Mohammed Abed Rabo, 48, a former Palestinian prisoner and activist told Middle East Eye. “In the best prison, you have between six to ten prisoners in a room, but in many cases, you have more than that,” he said, adding that up to 120 prisoners mix at a time during meals and outdoor activities. In addition to that, he said, the lack of hygiene products such as hand sanitizer and soap will only make matters worse.
“The prisons are already terrible at providing prisoners with basic hygiene products and necessities,” Abed Rabo said, adding that he has received information through the lawyers of the affected prisoners that the IPS has made no noticeable changes inside prisons to address the issue. For years, Palestinian rights groups have recorded what they call a policy of “deliberate medical negligence” in Israeli prisons across the country. It is estimated that since the Second Intifada, which ran from 2000 to 2005, 17 Palestinian prisoners have died as a direct result of medical negligence. Sick prisoners, Abed Rabo said, are already not receiving the proper medical treatment that they need. “The demographics of the prisoners match up with the demographics of those who are most susceptible to the deadly effects of the coronavirus,” he said. “And this is terrifying.” “The doctors rarely come, patients with serious issues are often prescribed generic painkillers, and those who need treatments like dialysis and chemotherapy are not kept on a proper treatment schedule,” “So imagine if these prisoners are faced with a coronavirus outbreak,” he continued. “Do you think they would be given proper treatment?”
According to Human Rights Watch, COVID-19 threatens people behind bars in the US. Authorities in the United States should take all necessary steps to protect people in prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers from infection by the coronavirus. They should consider supervised release and other non-custodial alternatives for detained individuals who are at high risk of serious effects from COVID-19.
People in prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers are not free to leave. They are in institutions that have often been found to provide inadequate health care even under normal circumstances. For example, severely substandard health care has contributed to recent deaths of immigrants in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Prison, jail, and detention center populations often also include people with serious chronic health conditions, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Many people in US jails have not been convicted of a crime but are locked up simply because they cannot afford to pay the bail set in their case. Older men and women are the fastest growing group in US prisons, due to lengthy sentences, and prison officials already have difficulty providing them appropriate medical care.
The number of people in US immigration detention has ballooned from an average daily population of 20,000 people in 2003 to more than 50,000 in 2019, not because there are more people who have violated US immigration laws but because of changes in policies. For example, under the Trump administration, there has been a severe decrease in the number of people granted parole, or release, after passing the first step of the asylum application process. The administration has also ended policies that limit the detention of populations facing heightened risks to health, like pregnant women.
Prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers should also take steps to ensure they are appropriately coordinating with public health departments and communicating openly with staff and people in custody. They should also screen and test for COVID-19 according to the most recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health authorities, and provide appropriate hygiene training and supplies. They should create plans for housing people exposed to or infected with the virus. Any plans for lockdowns or isolation should be limited in scope and duration based on the best science available, and they should not seem punitive, as fear of being placed in lockdowns or isolation could delay people notifying medical staff if they experience symptoms of infection.