United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Access to Justice project, with support from the Government of Netherlands, has started a rapid nationwide action to sensitize and protect prisoners against COVID-19 pandemic that remain a massive concern for correctional facilities in South Sudan.
To address vulnerability concerns, UNDP briefed the senior management and staff of the National Prisons Service of South Sudan (NPSSS). The first sensitization session by the UN Clinic team leader Dr. Neelam Khan touched on the origins, modes of spread, and the prevention of the Coronavirus. Evelyn Edroma, UNDP Chief Technical Advisor on Rule of Law, covered comparative analysis, policy issues, and recommendations on how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in prisons across the country.
"To date, South Sudan has not officially confirmed a single case of Covid-19. Therefore, this is high time for us to look after the safety of our prisoners. Our first step to controlling the spread of Corona Virus is to protect our prisoners and prioritize their health and wellbeing," stated Lt. General William Andrea, South Sudan National Prisons Service Deputy Director.
Working closely with the Government on precautionary and preventive measures to mitigate the risk, UNDP is providing critical health and hygiene supplies to the justice and law enforcement institutions in South Sudan to guard against the potential spread of COVID-19 and its long-term social and economic effects.
He said SSNPS authorities are limiting prison visits and asking visitors to register and wash their hands before entering the reception area. The SSNPS is also seeking approvals from competent justice authorities to allow the release of inmates with minor crimes as well as prisoners on remand.
There are currently around 7000 prisoners in South Sudan spread over seven central prisons and eighty-four county prisons. In the capital Juba, there are approximately 1300 prisoners in a facility designed to host only 125 inmates.
Speaking on behalf of UNDP, Evelyn Edroma stated that "Although South Sudan has not yet got any confirmed case of Coronavirus, in public or the prisons, this is the time to take action and be prepared to prevent its transmission in prisons."
During her presentation to the NPSSS leadership, Evelyn proposed several recommendations as a national response to contain Covid-19 in South Sudan. She stated that NPSSS must advance precautionary and preventive measures that seek to mitigate the risk and spread of the virus even as cases are increasingly reported in the sub-region.
UNDP is providing the NPSSS with advice, as well as information, education, and communication materials, to raise inmates' awareness in all prisons. Additional provisions also include precautionary kits, thermometers, washing liquids, sanitizers, face masks, gloves, and hand washing water dispensers.
The sensitization has catalyzed further policy action towards developing more comprehensive coronavirus related guidelines for the NPSSS.