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European Public Service Union calls on governments to act on vulnerable prison officers and inmates

THE European Public Service Union (EPSU) has called on governments not to ignore the risk that coronavirus poses to prison populations and staff across the continent.

The union federation noted that “the general state of health monitoring and surveillance systems in prisons is notoriously poor [and] it is worse in migration detention centres and refugee camps.”

Its prison officer affiliates say that “the prison services are the last public administrations to take organisational measures to reduce to a minimum the risk of exposure.”

Years of austerity have seriously exacerbated prison overcrowding in countries including Britain, Italy, Ireland and Spain, the EPSU pointed out. Spain, Britain and Belgium have recorded steep rises in violent attacks on both staff and inmates as a result of chronic staff shortages and overcrowding, while Italy saw riots and prison break-outs earlier this month in response to new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19.

Italian prison officers’ union FP-CGIL is demanding more personal protective equipment for staff, a reduction of the prison population through house arrest sentences or early acquittal for minor and non-violent crimes and mass recruitment of prison officers. Temporary release measures have already been applied in Italy and Ireland.

In France, prison officers are calling for an urgent distribution of face masks for staff and prisoners — or serious restrictions on prison visits. But in countries where alternatives to physical visits have been proposed, such as Italy, prisons have complained that they do not have sufficient telephone or computer resources to allow virtual visits.

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