Updated on 9 November 2020
As the general measure during the Covid-19 pandemic it is recommended that the prisoners communicate with people close to them via Skype meetings and telephone calls. All family and other normal prison visits are shut momentarily prohibited. Meetings with police officers and attorneys must still be permitted.
As of 24 June the restrictions on the prisoners’ right to receive visitors will be lifted gradually. At first, the prisons will allow supervised visits by the prisoners’ close relatives and underage children. In addition to the prisoner’s own children, the underage children of the spouse living in the same household with the prisoner may visit the prisoner.
During the visits, particular attention is paid to sufficient distances and hand hygiene. In open prisons, visits may also be arranged outside if sufficient distances and supervision are maintained. During all visits, touching is absolutely prohibited.
At the moment prison visits take place almost normally in Finnish prisons. The only restriction is that visitors must wear face masks. If the visitor does not have a mask the prison provides one. If the visitor refuses to owear aa mask, she/he is not allowed to visit the prisoner.
Activity allowance and the salary paid in open prisons will be paid to prisoners even if the activity is suspended because of the coronavirus.
All sports and exercise rooms and saunas in prisons will be opened as of 1 June 2020. If the prison unit has its own sauna, its use can be started immediately. The maximum number of persons in sports halls in the same time is 10 persons. The cleaning and ventilation of premises must be ensured after every instance of use.The use of prison libraries will normalise from 1 June, but the libraries will be visited by prison unit and maximum of 10 prisoners at a time. Remote lending will continue. Preparations are being made for the start of prison visits.
The expansion of work activities will also begin as of 1 June 2020. The consequences of the easing of restrictions will be assessed and, if, for example, cases of Covid-19 occur in prisons, RISE will be prepared to decide on new restrictions. At the moment, there’s no confirmed Covid-19 cases in Finnish prisons. The Preparedness group of RISE is working on a proposal for gradual removal of restrictions with prison directors. At the same time, the infectious status of the virus in society and the effects of alleviation in prisons will be monitored.
In open prisons, restrictions on the movement of groups of prisoners to work outside the prison are also considered on a case-by-case basis.
Face masks are used when the staff is working with prisoners who have symptoms of acute respiratory infection (fever, cough and/or dyspnoea) or when taking an intoxicant test. According to the instructions, when working with asymptomatic prisoners and staff, it is not necessary to use protective equipment.
The instructions material we have for our staff is written in Finnish. Information material for others is available in English on our website. Frequently asked questions (FAQ): https://www.rikosseuraamus.fi/en/index/topical/corona.html Coronavirus information for prisoners (in Finnish, English, Swedish, French, Russian and Arabic) in the prisoners’ intranet Portti: https://rikosseuraamus.fi/fi/index/portti/terveysjahyvinvointi/korona.html Press releases and news: https://www.rikosseuraamus.fi/en/index/topical/tiedotteet/2020.html
Primary restrictions imposed as a result of COVID-19 are in the areas of family visits and releasing prisoners on Temporary Release for rehabilitation purposes. Prisoners’ Rights to family visits are enshrined in law, (The Prison Rules 2007 Statutory Instrument 252/2007) however an amendment to the legislation was enacted in order to curtail those entitlements (duration and frequency of visits) arising from the risk of infection caused by the pandemic.
The granting of temporary release is also governed by law. Under the Criminal Justice Act 1960, the Minister for Justice may grant temporary release to prisoners at any time before they qualify for standard remission or to life-sentenced prisoners who are not entitled to standard remission. Due to current high community transmission rates, no prisoners are being approved temporary release from prison except in the most grave of humanitarian reasons. This legislation did not require to be amended, as absolute discretion on the granting of such temporary release rests with the Minister (and the officials making those decisions on the Minister’s behalf).
Certain prisoner have been required to isolate in their cells for a period of up to 14 days following committal. This is done under Rule 103 of the Prison Rules. All prisoners are tested for Covid-19 on day 6 and can exit Quarantine provided they are symptom free and return a negative Covid-19 test.
We have not organized training activities related to COVID-19. We have a wide range of written instructions for the management of COVID-19.
Mobile phones are not allowed in Finnish closed prisons. In open prisons (where we have about 1/3 prisoners) the inmates had already before the epidemic non-smatrtphones that are provided by the prison.
The total number of prisoners at the moment (16/10/2020) is 2802 and the number of staff members (including administration and probation workers) is 2572.
The Ministry of Justice first issued a decree on postponing the enforcement of prison sentences of a maximum six months and conversion sentences for unpaid fines during the time period from 19 March to 19 June 2020. The purpose of this decree was to lower the number of short-term prisoners and prevent the spreading of coronavirus among prisoners and staff. Subsequently, on 7 April 2020, an Act of Parliament postponing the enforcement of prison sentences and conversion sentences for unpaid fines during the time period from 10 April to 31 July 2020 was enacted. This act revoked the previous decree. The scope of application of this act is broader than the previous decree as it encompasses the postponing the enforcement of all prison sentences and conversion sentences for unpaid fines. Remand prisoners who are sentenced to a sentence of imprisonment are, however, not within the scope of applications of the act. The act is estimated to postpone the commencement of approximately 300-400 sentences. The aim of these legislative measures was to ensure that no prison overcrowding occurs during the COVID-19 pandemic and that there will be sufficient space within prisons to facilitate the keeping of proper safety distances, thus ensuring good health among prisoners and staff, proper health care and proper adherence to good prison management preventing any form of torture, inhumane or degrading treatment during the pandemic. The preparatory works of the act made reference to the CPT Statement of Principles, the Advice of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture to States Parties and National Preventive Mechanisms relating to the Coronavirus Pandemic (adopted on 25th March 2020) and the World Health Organization’s document “Preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention (Interim guidance 15 March 2020).
The Criminal Sanctions Agency of Finland is now starting lift the restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Close relatives and children can visit prisoners as of 24 June. The Agency will decide on other restrictions concerning, among others, other visits and prison leave permits on Tuesday 23 July. All restrictions should be lifted by 1 July.
The Government decided to postpone the enforcement of new conversion sentences for unpaid fines and unconditional prison sentences by a separate Act until the end of July at the most due to the coronavirus pandemic. The aim was to restrict the admission of new prisoners to the prisons in order to minimise the effects of the coronavirus epidemic and prevent overcrowding in the prisons.
For any further questions regarding the procedures in the state of emergency taken by the Criminal Sanctions Agency (RISE) please contact the following:
Mika Peltola (Coordinator, International Affairs)
Supported by the Justice Programme of the European Union