Updated on: 9 November 2020
Prisons will report immediately to the Ministry of Justice Prison Department of any suspected and identified virus cases, also of other related problems.
Transfers of prisoners between different prisons are suspended. Transfers between Police detention houses/centres and prisons are carried out in exceptional cases only, and after individual case agreements between Police and Prison Service.
All admitted prisoners are checked with a no-touch thermometer in the transfer bus prior arriving a prison; in case of suspected infection, the receiving prison’s medical department is notified immediately, and the bus will be disinfected after the transfer.
For all prisoners with clinical signs of infection, there is organised a quarantine unit, where he/she has to be housed for 14 days or until the infection risk has passed. The original cell of the infected (suspected infected) prisoner who has been transferred to the quarantine unit will be disinfected. Restrictions to the prisoners held in the quarantine unit and other people entering the quarantine unit are set by the medical department.
All people entering a prison are checked with a no-touch thermometer and in case of suspected fever, cough or other symptoms of virus, the person is recommended to go home and contact a general medical practitioner.
All prison visit tours and similar activities that are not necessary for the everyday functions of prison, are cancelled.
From 14.03.2020 all visits to prisoners are suspended, except visits by criminal defence counsels, representatives who are advocates, ministers of religion, notary and consular officers of country of nationality to prisoners.
Court hearings are held via video conference.
In Estonia starting from October long-term family visits are cancelled. Short-term visits in secured individual rooms where visitors and detainees are separated by glass continue as normal, while following all hygiene and disinfection requirements. Also, everyone entering a prison is checked with a no-touch thermometer and in case of cold-like symptoms is denied entry.
From 16.03.2020 all prisoners in closed prisons are locked in cells; the daily one hour open air time is cancelled for the time being, except in the mother and child unit.
Prisoners’ contacts with state institutions, municipalities, criminal defence counsels, representatives who are advocates, ministers of religion, notary and consular officers of country of nationality to prisoners are not restricted. Private phone calls are enabled at least once a week.
Medical inspections are recommended to be carried out inside prisoners’ housing units, in exceptional caseses and when necessary – in the medical unit.
Open prison prisoners can use a phone free of charge to contact prison officers.
From 17.03.2020 open prison prisoners are not allowed to leave prison.
All group activities for prisoners are suspended; individual (on to one) programs and activities continue.
Prisoner canteen (store) services are suspended. Sanitary hygiene products and stationary are provided to all prisoners by prison service.
Packages for prisoners are admitted via Postal Service only.
Prisons will minimise the movement of prison staff between different units. The number of officers who come into contact with infected (or suspected infected) prisoners is kept to a minimum.
Prison staff canteen will provide food in takeaway containers or the canteen is used by each unit’s staff separately and the dining hall is disinfected inbetween.
Prison officials are required to report immediately on every person with clinical signs of virus.
One person from medical staff will be responsible for performing the first evalutation of all suspected infected persons in prison.
All pregnant prison officers and workers, with no exceptions, must stay home immediately and do distance work.
Prison medical department provides prison officials with protective equipment together with instructions and hygiene requirements for use. Other people are instructed by the prison officials.
All cases and situations when wearing a surgical mask is compulsory is listed separately for prison officials, prisoners and visitors whose visits can not be restricted.
All prisons must have (especially in the prison entry and prisoner admission facilities, also in the quarantine unit) adequate amount of disinfection products and medical personal protective equipment: respirators, protective gloves, protective eyewear, together with no-touch thermometers.
In Estonian prisons restrictive decisions are made case-by-case, depending on the regional situation of each prison and the active positive cases inside a prison. Long-term visits are suspended in all prisons. And, in all prisons there is an isolation unit for risk group prisoners (with a severe underlying medical condition, or having a serious disease or medical condition). In case a person is tested positive for C-19, everybody who has been in close contact will be tested, also when necessary a cohort testing of prisoners and prison officers will be carried out.
Written information on hygiene awarenesss is presented on notice boards of every housing unit. It covers the basic hygiene measures: how to wash hands, how to cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing, how to dispose used tisuse paper and to notify a prison officer immediately when not feeling well.
At this moment information is also constantly forwarded through national and international TV and radio channels that prisoners have access to.
During the pandemic time Estonian Prison Service has not been contacted by TV crews that would like to enter prison facilities. In case this would happen, we would carefully consider whether or not the visit is necessary. Therefore, we do not have a procedural rule in this matter. Every request is being handled individually, depending on the necessity of the occasion.
Estonian Prison Service has not produced additional information materials concerning Covid-19 pandemic, but we have directed people to use the Estonian Health Board web page that provides the latest information and advice, including the 24/7 hotline for Coronavirus related issues: https://www.terviseamet.ee/en/covid19 https://www.kriis.ee/en
Restrictions imposed on prisoners are mostly described in Imprisonment Act (regulates procedure for and organisation of execution of imprisonment, detention and custody pending trial; English: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/eli/513052020005/consolide ).
if the law doesn’t provide a legal bases for a specific restriction or in a particular situation, in prisons we use one general provision and present our argumentation in a decision (written document). The general legal provision says the following:
“Respect of human dignity and compliance with rights
(1) Prisoners, detained persons or persons in custody are treated in a manner that respects their human dignity and ensures that their serving of the sentence or being held in custody does not cause them more suffering or inconvenience than that inevitable in association with detention in prisons or houses of detention.
(2) Liberties of prisoners, detained persons or persons in custody shall be subject to the restrictions provided by law. Unless the law provides a specific restriction, a prison, the Ministry of Justice or a house of detention may apply only such restrictions which are necessary for reasons of security of the prison or house of detention. The restrictions shall comply with their objective of application and the principles of human dignity and may not distort the nature of the other rights and liberties provided by law.”
In the emergency situation (when the emergency situation is declared) The Government of the Republic may impose by an order restrictions on the freedom of movement under the Emergency Act. They can also impose restrictions on the freedom of movement concerning prisons. For example, the long term and short term visits of prisoners’ in this spring were prohibited by the order of The Government of the Republic. Other restrictions concerning prisoners were imposed by prison governors under the Imprisonment Act using legal provision that was mentioned earlier. Was this provision enough as a legal basis and were the restrictions legal, can review the court when resolving the prisoners’ complaint.
The only law change that we made was that we added additional legal bases into Imprisonment Act, which gives the prison service the right to impose on a person a prohibition on stay in prison when resolving of all events which directly endanger the general security of a prison or the application of imprisonment.
For any further questions regarding the procedures in the state of emergency taken by the Estonian Prison Service please contact the following:
Emma Bachmann (adviser)
Estonian Prison Service
Telephone +372 574 50 933
Supported by the Justice Programme of the European Union