<COVID-19>Statement Calling for Infection Spread Prevention in Penal Detention Facilities
On April 7, 2020, the Japanese Government declared a State of Emergency over seven prefectures in accordance with the Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response, which the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is subject to. The geographic scope was later expanded on April 16 to cover the rest of the country. The novel coronavirus pandemic can be seen spreading throughout Japan.
In general, penal detention facilities (penal institutions, detention facilities, and Coast Guard detention facilities) have few windows and often place numerous inmates in small spaces. This inevitably leads to a situation where the “Three Cs” (Closed Spaces, Crowded Spaces, and Close-contact Settings) become consistently unavoidable.
If any inmate of a penal detention center contracts COVID-19 while in such conditions, the risk of an mass outbreak occurring within the premises increases in likelihood, potentially leading to serious harm to the health of many inmates, detainees, and Coast Guard detainees (hereinafter “inmates etc.”).
Many infected with COVID-19 exhibit no symptoms or show only extremely mild symptoms. Therefore, it will be too late to prevent mass infections in penal facilities if countermeasures are taken only after those infected with COVID-19 develop serious symptoms and test positive by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.
Even if certain measures, such as zoning and thorough disinfection are put in place within the premises, there are facilities where several inmates are made to share a room without being supplied with face masks. Additionally, the inadequacy of such measures in preventing mass infection has clearly been proven not only by a rise in COVID-19 cases in penal detention facilities, but by the nosocomial infections that occurred in many medical institutions. Crucial in preventing mass outbreaks in penal detention facilities is the reduction of the “Three Cs” to the fullest extent possible. To achieve this, taking into account the current capacity of such facilities, the number of detained inmates etc. needs to be reduced.
Thus, the JFBA calls on the Ministry of Justice, the Public Prosecutors Office, the Japan Coast Guard, and each Prefectural Police Headquarters to undertake the following three measures:
1. Taking into account the significantly increased health risk (endangerment of life and physical safety) of suspects, the necessity for arrest/detention should be scrutinized closely in each case to avoid arrests/detention as much as possible, or suspects who are already under arrest/detention should be released and investigations carried out without detention.
2. To prevent spread of infection within the premises, the maximum possible preventive measures should be implemented, including assigning one inmate per room as much as possible, and minimizing the chance of close contact with prison officers/detention officers, etc., and carrying out thorough disinfection and ventilation.
3. To ensure the life and physical safety of the inmates, etc., as well as the prevention of the spread of infection, the maximum possible measures should be taken, such as allowing them immediate access to medical institutions, in the event that any of the inmates, etc. appears to have symptoms suspected to be from COVID-19.
April 23, 2020
Japan Federation of Bar Associations