The lack of proper protective measures against covid-19 in Turkey’s prisons has put prisoners, especially those with underlying health problems and those from the poorest sectors of society, at grave risk during the first 18 months of the pandemic.
The Turkish authorities have excluded political prisoners serving time for “terrorism offences”, among whom there are over-60s, from benefiting from the law granting early release on parole or house arrest during the pandemic, regardless of their medical conditions. The lack of protective measures against covid-19 in prisons added layers onto already existing rights abuses, and also resulted in stricter conditions of incarceration.
During the covid-19 outbreak, the Association for Civil Society in the Penal System (CISST) has regularly reported the complaints of prisoners who have applied to them seeking support and solidarity.
Berivan Korkut, one of the coordinators of CISST, told Mesopotamia News Agency (MA) that of the main problems in prisons during the pandemic, access to sanitation, hygiene supplies, healthy nutrition and health facilities were among the primary issues listed.
“There are many problems in prisons. One of the two most essential problems is that the closure of all social areas goes further than mere precaution and actually serves to create stricter conditions of isolation, and the other is the lack of access to health care,” she said.
The Ministry of Justice and the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centres announced in four different statements during the covid-19 outbreak that in case of need, hygiene products would be distributed to prisoners.
“But this is such a vague expression. So together with few health institutions we launched a campaign for hygiene packs for prisoners. But the authorities have not taken one step in this direction,” Korkut said.
She added that the lack of hygiene packs puts prisoners in a desperate situation, particularly those in for petty crimes, who tend to lack either financial support or collective solidarity.
She emphasised that the economic crisis on the outside is directly reflected inside: “We observe that most prisoners come from a lower socio-economic sector of the society. Life in prison also comes with costs. If you do not have a have family supporting you you are poor inside as well.”
This “prison poverty” highlighted by Korkut put many prisoners at the gravest risk during the pandemic, because they could not afford to buy hygiene products, and the prison administrations did not supply them.
Korkut shared a shocking example summarising the grim situation in prisons, showing how tragic the result for prisoners who lack financial support and are also not supplied the necessary hygiene products by the prison administrations.
“For instance, a prisoner who is jailed in a solitary confinement cell wrote to us that since all he can afford is laundry detergent he has to shower with it, wash his hands with it and sometimes even brush his teeth with it, and he also uses the same detergent to clean his cell,” she said.
Korkut noted that lockdowns in Turkey and around the world have been lifted, “but nothing has changed in the prisons. Therefore we feel the need to emphasise that these are not actually protective measures but have been made into a form of isolation, which has profound effects on the psychology of prisoners”.
She explained that sick prisoners need to be transferred to a hospital each time they need special treatment as the health facilities in prisons do not have the capacity to respond to such needs. But the prisoners refuse to go out to a hospital because of the severe rights abuses they face on their return from the hospital.
“When inmates are taken outside the prison they have to spend 14 days in a quarantine cell on their return. Since the quarantine rooms are a kind of solitary confinement cells and these rooms lack adequate hygiene equipment as well as television, radio or newspapers needed for information, this bring prisoners to such a level that they refuse to go for treatment,” she said.