Frequently asked questions about prevention and control of
COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention
Why are people in prison especially vulnerable to COVID-19?
People in prisons and other places of detention live in a closed environment and in close proximity with
one another – conditions that facilitate transmission of diseases. They also have a greater underlying
burden of disease and worse health conditions than the general population, and frequently face greater
exposure to risks such as smoking, poor hygiene and weak immune defence due to stress, poor nutrition
or existing diseases. All these factors make people living in prison more susceptible to infections.
Should all convicted individuals newly admitted to prison be screened?
All newly admitted individuals should be screened for fever and lower respiratory tract symptoms;
particular attention should be paid to people with contagious diseases. If they have symptoms
compatible with COVID-19, or if they have a prior COVID-19 diagnosis and are still symptomatic, they
should be put into medical isolation until further medical evaluation and testing are possible.
Should all individuals newly admitted to prison be put in quarantine for 14 days?
It is more cost-effective to have newly admitted individuals screened. Unnecessary medical isolation has
negative impacts on mental health.
Should prison staff be screened?
A triage system to assess individual risks and screening for fever and lower respiratory tract symptoms
should be set up for people working in prison, including custodial and health-care staff. The rationale
must be to prevent or limit the entry of COVID-19 into prisons.
What about visitors – should they be screened?
Triage, risk assessment and/or screening at point of entry to prison should include visitors and all people
entering the prison, irrespective of the existence of suspected cases in the community. Risk assessment
consists of collecting information on any history of cough and/or shortness of breath, recent travel
history or provenance from affected areas, and possible contact with confirmed cases in the last 14 days.
Should visitors be allowed in prisons during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Decisions to limit or restrict visits should take into account the impact on the mental well-being of
people in prisons and the increased levels of anxiety that separation from friends and family and the
outside world may cause. Banning of visitors to protect the setting from COVID-19 may result in
violence, so other measures that facilitate non-contact visits, such as the introduction of video
conferencing (e.g. Skype), should be considered.
Should bodies of inspection be denied access to prisons?
Even in the circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak, bodies of inspection whose mandate is to prevent
torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment should have access to all
people deprived of their liberty in prisons and other places of detention (including persons in isolation),
in accordance with the provisions of the respective body’s mandate.