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Estonia: prison guards to switch to five-day schedules during emergency situation

In order to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, prison guards in Estonia are switching to a 24/5 schedule beginning Saturday, under which they will work five days in a row and spend their time off after work likewise on site at the prison, the Ministry of Justice said.

Experts have recommended such work arrangements for both prisons and care homes to prevent people at risk from becoming infected.

The more people move in and out of a prison, the higher the likelihood of inmates getting infected, said Priit Kama, deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Justice.

“We are very grateful to the workers who were prepared to rearrange their plans,” Kama said. “Our people understand the severity of the situation in our country, and also the fact that it may get much worse unless we all make an effort.”

Prisons will be divided into two in terms of the organization of work. Prison officials will work in prisoners’ living quarters for five consecutive days, while work will be continued as usual in administrative buildings, external surveillance as well as open prisons. Due to their duties, only medical staff will be permitted to move around throughout prison territory.

Prison officials have been chosen for the five-day shifts on a voluntary basis. Prisons have already made arrangements with members of the first two shifts.

At-risk populations

There are currently some 300 people with HIV and 700 people with hepatitis C serving time in Estonian prisons, in addition to many others for whom contracting the coronavirus could prove fatal. As prisoners in critical condition would have to be treated in the intensive care units of civilian hospitals, which may need to admit rapidly increasing numbers of civilian patients in the near future, it is important to prevent prison inmates from becoming infected so as not to further burden the system, the ministry said.

In order to prevent the spread of the virus, inmates are not permitted to have visitors during the emergency situation. Likewise canceled are group work and walks, and prisoners are to remain in their living quarters.

Inmates have been given access to more reading material, crossword puzzles and TV channels. A larger variety of food and phone calls to next of kin have also been made available to them.

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