Islamabad – The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched a Virtual Advocacy Campaign (VAC) on COVID-19 mitigation measures in collaboration with the Criminal Justice Institutions in Pakistan. The campaign was curated through a webinar on ‘Shaping Prisons’ response through preparedness’ in collaboration with the provincial Prisons Departments from across the country.
Inaugurating the Virtual Advocacy Campaign, Jeremy Milsom, Country Representative, UNODC Pakistan underscored the need for a radical shift through adaptive approaches to respond to the challenges of COVID-19. He added that the Virtual Advocacy Campaign will help UNODC to find innovative solutions to advocate and support the institutions of the Criminal Justice System in Pakistan as they continue to adjust to the pandemic.
The webinar on prisons was the first in a series of virtual discussions planned by the UNODC Country Office in Pakistan. The insightful webinar brought together key speakers and panelists from prisons and across the chain of criminal justice institutions in Pakistan, including senior leadership, development practitioners and global experts in prisons, crime prevention and criminal justice, including the judiciary. Participants spoke on evidence-based good management practices for COVID-19 with the purpose to safeguard staff and inmates in the prisons of Pakistan.
Kazi Nazeer, DIG, Prisons, Sindh offered a perspective on Sindh prisons COVID-19 management, protection and response mechanisms taken by the Sindh Prisons Department, such as enforcement of the Sindh Epidemic Disease Act 2014, health protection measures of allocating dedicated cells and barracks for quarantine and isolation facilities, mandatory screening of prisoners and use of personal protective equipment by staff ever since the first COVID-19 case was detected in February 2020 . Glenn Ross, Prisons Expert, Adam Smith International, emphasized that while tackling COVID-19 “we should not let a crisis go to waste” and must look for opportunities not only to deal with short term problems but put in place measures that will have a lasting value for prison and criminal justice reforms. To this end, Masood ur Rehman, IG Prisons, Azad Jammu and Kashmir outlined challenges and opportunities in prison management as part of COVID-19 response mechanisms, highlighting the strong correlation between ‘overcrowding’ and ‘Under-Trial-Prisoners (UTP)’ as one of the key risks to the transmission of the virus. He emphasized reinforcing the need for flexibility in the current legal system to ensure timely release of UTPs to reduce the prison population to control and contain the pandemic.
Philipp Meissner, Inter-regional Advisor, Focal Point for Prison Reform, Justice Section from UNODC Vienna provided an evidence-driven reality check for the participants noting that roughly 58,000 prisoners are reported to be infected with COVID-19 across the world. He also introduced the participants to UNODC’s e-learning platform for self-directed learning in pandemic preparedness. The vibrant discussions were successfully steered by Waqas Shah, Programme Officer, Prosecution and Judiciary from UNODC to achieve a broader consensus on recommendations for developing a specific and consolidated road map for prisons on preparedness and crisis response, prevention and control strategies. Tim Williams, Governance and Quality Assurance Specialist, UNODC summed up key recommendations, including measures related to planning and preparedness, health and protection, training, inspection, communication and coordination to support a robust and effective response to COVID-19. The recommendations also proposed applying effective management approaches to maintain secure, safe and humane detention facilities during the time of COVID-19 and beyond
Masood ur Rehman, IG Prisons from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa formally closed the seminar with a note of thanks. The participants agreed that prevention and control alone may not be sufficient since prisons in Pakistan are inundated by several challenges of a strategic and systemic nature related to lack of training and coordination in addition to overcrowding. The pandemic has put a spotlight on the complex challenges that need to be addressed through sustainable and systematic actionable solutions through a coordinated approach by the prison authorities and the relevant criminal justice institituions .
This Virtual Advocacy Campaign is curated by the UNODC Country Office, Pakistan as a COVID-response initiative to support the Criminal Justice Institutions in Pakistan.