Statement from the Catalan Ombudsman on the prevention of coronavirus spreading in prisons of Catalonia



The Catalan Ombudsman has addressed the Prime Minister of the Government of Catalonia and the Catalan Minister of Justice

As announced on March 26th, the Catalan Ombudsman initiated an ex officio action to analyse the management of the crisis caused by the spread of the SARS-CoV2 virus and its incidence in all prisons of the Administration of the Government of Catalonia.

On that occasion, the Ombudsman echoed the official statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, calling on governments around the world to reduce the number of people deprived of liberty, in particular those condemned for political reasons or for expressing critical ideas or dissent. Simultaneously, the international mechanisms for overseeing centres of deprivation of liberty (UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, Council of Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe) recommended reducing the prison population and the search for alternatives to deprivation of liberty.

Subsequently, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, described this pandemic as the "worst crisis since World War II" and called for extraordinary measures to address it, while the European Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, called for the release of migrants deprived of liberty in detention centres.

Most recently, in a note released yesterday, Boris Cilevics, the Parliamentary Assembly Rapporteur for the Council of Europe, supported the measures taken by many countries to release people deprived of liberty who do not pose any risk to society and, in particular, he referred to inmates with a political profile, in the following terms: 

“Prisoners with political backgrounds, such as the Catalan politicians convicted for their role in the unconstitutional referendum in October 2017, or the Turkish parliamentarians, mayors and other politicians imprisoned for speeches made in the exercise of their mandate, should certainly benefit from such measures”. 

In accordance with these pronouncements, the Catalan Ombudsman urges the prison administration to speed up the actions to release, as far as possible, the largest number of inmates in prisons, in order to minimize risk of SARS-CoV2 virus infections and of helping prevent the collapse of the National Health System.

In this sense, the Catalan Ombudsman recommends the progression to the third degree of prison treatment for all people classified under ordinary regime who enjoy the mode of life provided for in article 100.2 of the Penitentiary Regulation, provided their capacity to carry a regime of life in semi-freedom. Inmates in this situation must have a low profile of danger and a low risk of criminal recidivism and good behaviour; family or social external support to ensure the obligation of home lockdown, and be prepared to maintain other control mechanisms.

This measure should be adopted in a generalized manner and without any form of discrimination among inmates who meet these requirements, so, in accordance with what Cilevics is asking, and in line with what Michelle Bachelet stated, should benefit the nine people convicted by Supreme Court judgment 459/2019.

To enable release and subsequent home lockdown, the progression to the third degree regime could be adopted under the mode of life provided for in article 86.4 of the Penitentiary Regulation, in its non-telematic form, as the Catalan Department of Justice is applying to more than half of the third-degree inmates in the current context of fighting against the coronavirus pandemic. The acceptance of this measure would be favoured by the principle of flexibility, which must be present during the entire period of execution of the sentence of deprivation of liberty, and would be temporary for the duration of the exceptional situation in which we are living.

For this reason, the Catalan Ombudsman is addressing the President of the Government of Catalonia, Quim Torra, and the Catalan Minister of Justice, Esther Capella, to learn about the Catalan Government's action in this matter and if there are instructions from other authorities in a different way.

Barcelona, 3rdApril 2020