Interview of Alexander Khabarov, Deputy Director of the Federal penitentiary service of Russia, to the "TASS news Agency"

Interview of Alexander Khabarov, Deputy Director of the Federal penitentiary service of Russia, to the "TASS news Agency"
25.06.2020

The deputy director of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, lieutenant-general of the internal service Alexander Khabarov, told TASS how the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service protected prisoners from the threat of coronavirus, what emergency measures were introduced in the institutions, the beginning of mask sewing and the work of sanitary patrols.

- In mid-March, the COVID-19 epidemic came to Russia. It is no secret that there were predictions that the infiltration of coronavirus into Russian penitentiary institutions would lead to disastrous consequences, because it would be unrealistic to protect prisoners from this disease. How quickly did the FSIN respond to a new threat?

- As for everyone, the first days since the beginning of the epidemic were the most difficult for the penal system. At that time, much was still incomprehensible with this virus, how it spreads, what is better to do in such a situation. But everyone knew about the scale of the threat, so we tried to act as quickly as possible, clearly, while observing the requirements of the law. As they say, without the right to make a mistake. The Directorate of the FSIN of Russia decided to create an operational headquarters, which should coordinate the actions of all units. A comprehensive phased plan of organizational and practical measures was developed. Our sanitary and epidemiological service has developed guidelines where it provided all the necessary measures. First of all, an organizational nature: how to keep suspects, accused, and convicts under the prevailing conditions, how to separate and isolate them in case of suspected illness. Secondly, of a medical-diagnostic nature and, thirdly, sanitary-epidemiological measures - how to treat and disinfect rooms, what protective equipment to use, how to organize their provision, and so on.

As a result, our territorial bodies did not disappoint, they worked well. Without waiting until additional funding was allocated for the purchase of personal protective equipment, the territorial departments assessed their capabilities, purchased materials and began sewing protective masks. That is, they organized production without waiting for the problem to become serious.

In turn, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation did not leave us without support in resolving numerous issues. Thus, the Ministry of Justice of Russia supported the preparation of draft regulatory legal acts, including the budgetary allocations for the purchase of personal protective equipment, test systems and medical equipment by the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia.

- What was the focus of attention first of all?

- On monitoring and control of the situation. We began to trace and respond to the slightest suspicion of a virus infection. When there is minimal suspicion that a person may be a carrier of the virus or have contacted someone infected outside the institution, we immediately took measures to isolate it, organize an examination and the necessary treatment. Persons in contact with him who were also isolated were identified. To do this, sanitary patrols were created in the territorial departments that monitored the situation.

Starting from April 1, we conducted a total of 116 thousand tests, including 64 thousand we conducted in our own laboratories. To do this, we redesigned our bacteriological and immunological laboratories to detect diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV infection and work to identify the COVID-19 virus. After Rospotrebnadzor gave us permission, we received tests from them free of charge, we bought some of the tests ourselves, and now we independently conduct such an impressive amount of examinations.

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If at first the emergence of a new virus brought some tension, now work in the new conditions has acquired a systemic character. The main thing is that in no region did we allow the development of a critical situation

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Of course, the main threat that still remains is the introduction of the virus into correctional colonies and pre-trial detention centers from the outside. Therefore, when employees enter the service, they undergo a medical examination, thermometry, and pass tests for coronavirus. Since the beginning of the epidemic, we have introduced a number of restrictions in our institutions, including in some regions we have organized the so-called shift work method. Employees go on duty immediately for 14 days without the ability to leave the walls of the institution throughout this period to exclude any contacts from the outside.

For new citizens entering a pre-trial detention center or correctional colony, the quarantine period (before being transferred to a general squad or cell) was extended to 20 days, taking into account that the development of the disease has a period of imaginary well-being, when it seems that the person is healthy, but then symptoms begin to appear SARS and on the 7-8th day the test shows a positive reaction. Therefore, it became necessary to introduce measures to limit visits to institutions, including relatives and representatives of public organizations. Admission of lawyers is carried out using personal protective equipment and with negotiations through glass.

When they say that during this period we closed the colonies and pre-trial detention centers, created an almost iron curtain, then this is not entirely true. Data on measures taken, the number of cases, information on quarantine restrictions, memos for relatives of suspects, accused and convicted persons, the regime and conditions of institutions during the epidemic, and much more are available on the official website of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, the websites of regional departments and the media.

- Was the quarantine regime introduced in institutions across the country?

- The special conditions regime or quarantine measures are introduced where the most difficult sanitary and epidemiological situation is. According to the decision of the chief state sanitary doctor of the FSIN of Russia, the special conditions regime was introduced in pre-trial detention centers of 15 territorial bodies of the FSIN of Russia and in four pre-trial detention centers of central submission. In addition, quarantine was declared in individual institutions of 48 territorial bodies. In those regions where the situation was getting better and the negative development of the situation stopped, quarantine measures in institutions were weakened. To date, the quarantine regime remains in separate institutions of 29 territorial bodies.

- How much did the new virus appear in the FSIN facilities?

- The largest number of identified diseases among suspects, accused and convicted in the Central Federal District - 233 cases. In the Ural Federal District - 111 cases. These are cases that are confirmed by tests, not only in our laboratories, but also in the laboratories of Rospotrebnadzor.

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At the same time, in 28 regions, among the suspects, accused and convicted, there are no cases at all

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If we talk about employees of the penal correction system, then the picture is different. Only in 3 territorial bodies there were no cases of diseases among employees.

In total, 2132 employees and 766 suspects, accused, and convicts were diagnosed with coronavirus infection. 1,037 employees and 292 of the suspects, accused and convicted recovered.

- How many cases of serious illness were there when you had to urgently be hospitalized in civilian hospitals, and fatal cases? And were there enough doctors in the FSIN system itself?

- Recently, in Moscow, one person under investigation was in serious condition outside the pre-trial detention center. This is a 65-year-old convict who has a number of chronic diseases. He was hospitalized three weeks ago, and now his health condition has improved a lot.

To date, in our institutions, not a single death has been recorded among convicted, suspected or accused of diseases caused by a new coronavirus infection.

Even at the stage of developing a set of preventive measures in each region, routing plans were prepared in advance - hospitalization of seriously ill patients in stationary institutions of the state and municipal health systems. But it turned out that we were more reinsured. There are few cases of prisoners being treated outside institutions. In the Jewish Autonomous Region, three people from an educational colony were in an infectious diseases hospital. They were not severely ill, but given that they are minors, we asked them to be admitted to the infectious diseases hospital, where they recovered safely.

In principle, in the treatment of patients who have a mild form of the disease, sending to inpatient facilities is not provided. As well as at large, those who are ill in a mild form are treated at home. We also treat them, observe. We also have intensive care units, including those with oxygen support.

At the same time, I want to emphasize that even in the context of combating the spread of coronavirus infection, we do not deprive prisoners of the opportunity to receive assistance in civilian medical institutions. This year, we exported 10 thousand convicts and persons under investigation to medical organizations of the state (municipal) health system both on an emergency and scheduled basis for consultations on various diseases that are not related to coronavirus.

We must pay tribute to the medical workers of our health units, most of whom have switched to a round-the-clock work schedule since the beginning of the pandemic, but do not even ask when they will have an extra day off. This work may seem inconspicuous to someone, but in fact it is a colossal work. Hours to work, being in the means of protection, how much strength and patience it takes! Moreover, in some southern regions, the climatic summer begins earlier than in Moscow. So, of course, this is a dedicated work, which, I hope, will certainly be noted.

- How reliable was the information that appeared in the media and on the Internet about mass cases in FSIN facilities?

- There were cases when in a number of publications some figures and facts that came from nowhere come from. For example, that 80 convicts are somewhere with a high temperature and no one approaches them. As a rule, checks of such messages showed that there were no cases at all. It would be possible to understand if at least someone got sick and the numbers turned out to be a little exaggerated. But in a number of regions it was just fiction, which had no basis at all. Such examples were in the Orenburg region, in the Novgorod and the Rostov and other regions. In such cases, we refute the lie that appears.

- Given that the colonies had limited visits from outside, the employees were tested before joining the service, in which cases it was not possible to stop the penetration of the virus?

- The methods of infiltration of the virus can be different - when people come from temporary detention facilities, from the halls of courts, when moving between institutions. As I have already said, the difficulty is that when a prisoner is admitted, for example, to a pre-trial detention center, we may not reveal any symptoms or signs of the disease, but later they may appear. In addition, we have not only closed institutions, but also open ones - such as correctional centers, settlement colonies, where settlers work at external facilities. For example, in the Krasnodar region, several convicts who worked under a contract at an economic facility fell ill.

Even in this difficult period, it was impossible to stop the convoy of prisoners, because the entry into force of the sentence means that we are obliged to send convicts to correctional facilities within the time period specified by law. And along the route we accept at the exchange points also those under investigation from temporary detention facilities. So, if suddenly at least one sick person is detected during the convoy, then we are forced to isolate and quarantine entire guards. Under these conditions, it is impossible to fully provide insulation.

And, of course, another potential source of infection is the removal of prisoners to the courts. If in a pre-trial detention center it is possible to provide separate detention of people, then in the courts there is not such a quantity of premises to contain all separately. Therefore, a number of regions have used videoconferencing in court cases.

- Was there any work on extradition of convicted persons to other countries during this period?

- Since the introduction of urgent measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection in Russia as part of the fulfillment by the Russian Federation of international legal obligations to extradite through land checkpoints, 90 people have been transferred to foreign countries, 31 people have been transferred to Russia.

The extradition of persons on the international wanted list took place with 8 states, such as [Republic of] Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Poland, South Ossetia, China.

Moreover, all extradited persons were examined for coronavirus before being sent from Russia.

Among the convicts, there are categories for which the virus could become a death sentence - people with tuberculosis, HIV-infected people, several thousand convicts over 60 years old?

- When developing preventive measures, these categories were especially taken into account. In our institutions, there are now about 13.5 thousand patients with tuberculosis and 57 thousand HIV-infected. But practice has shown that in the correctional colony where they are kept, the least new convicts arrive. Therefore, there were no outbreaks among this category of convicts.

Convicts over 65 years made maximum use of personal protective equipment; they were assigned to separate groups in correctional institutions in order to minimize their contact with the outside world and those around them.

But still, cases of illnesses among other prisoners could not be completely avoided. Were there cases when intervention was required from Moscow, from the central apparatus of the FSIN?

- Yes, there have been such cases. For example, a group of our employees and specialists of the Ministry of Health traveled to the Jewish Autonomous Region, where cases of coronavirus infection were detected among inmates and employees of the educational colony. The commission checked the organization of medical care in the penitentiary system.

When the difficult epidemiological situation developed in Dagestan and the number of sick residents of the republic increased, we sent to the UFSIN a commission and doctors from neighboring regions - Stavropol and Krasnodar territories, Kabardino-Balkaria. Although there were only a few patients in the penitentiary institutions, and all of them were sick in an asymptomatic form, infectious disease specialists, therapists, and other specialists provided their fellow doctors with the necessary assistance in this situation. In addition, in Dagestan, with the support of representatives of the Ministry of Health, we launched our own laboratory for testing for coronavirus.

A group of our specialists traveled to the Mari El Republic when employees fell ill there. It was possible to localize the situation and it did not receive distribution.

The FSIN was criticized for closing down institutions for visits by relatives and public organizations.

- Restrictions on visits to institutions, including by relatives and representatives of human rights organizations, we have introduced legally. Such actions are dictated by the exceptional need to ensure the safety of life and health of people in prison. I think this is the most important thing for all of us.

In addition, despite the implementation of a complex of sanitary-anti-epidemic, including restrictive measures, since March 16, members of the PMC visited the penitentiary facilities 202 times (of which 105 are correctional facilities and 97 are isolation wards). Even during the period of quarantine measures, some territorial bodies of the FSIN of Russia continued to interact with representatives of the human rights community and even developed a new format for such work. For example, members of the PMC of the Moscow Region were able to organize the consideration of applications from suspects, accused, convicted and their relatives by e-mail. In the mode of intercom and video conferencing, they held meetings with convicts, conducted a telephone direct line with citizens. In addition, an explanation was organized through the website of the PMC of the Moscow Region and the media about the issues that were most often addressed to them by prisoners and their relatives.

- In a number of countries, for example, in the USA, where the largest number of prisoners in the world, prisoners began to be released due to the threat of coronavirus. In Russia, there were also proposals to release prisoners or persons under investigation from custody. How would you comment on this?

- The competence of the FSIN of Russia does not include the adoption of decisions on the release or amendment of a preventive measure. Our service is obliged to carry out its work in any conditions. For our part, we have done everything possible to ensure the safety of those who are currently in prison. At present, the analysis of statistics shows a tendency towards a decrease in the growth rate of the incidence rate among suspects, accused, convicted persons.

- I remember the recently published photo on the FSIN website of building personnel in one of the Moscow pre-trial detention centers - in protective suits, like those of doctors in coronavirus hospitals, at a distance of a couple of meters from each other. There were many institutions where it was necessary to introduce the most difficult quarantine conditions?

- Given that Moscow has a large number of pre-trial detention centers, which contain a large number of people, the capitals pre-trial detention center was faced with the task of taking increased security measures and preventing the virus from entering institutions. Therefore, the measures were taken really the most serious. Of course, its hard for employees to serve in these suits. But they have a break. They wear a protective suit until noon, and after the break they put on a processed, disinfected protective suit again and continue on duty.

Recently, the Moscow Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation was visited by Tatyana Moskalkova, the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, and positively assessed the work of pre-trial detention centers under quarantine restrictions.

- How did the prisoners take the new measures?

- We started conducting explanatory work with prisoners from the very beginning of the pandemic. Explained in detail what measures are being taken, why this is necessary, when personal protective equipment, etc. is needed. We used the capabilities of internal cable television in institutions, distributed information leaflets in jail. Of course, there were many inconveniences for people, including constant disinfection. But thanks to the fact that we explained in detail the need for such measures, people treated them with understanding. For example, we handed out air-disinfecting devices to cameras and detachments, and the people realized that this was necessary to protect their health, no one had broken anything.

- Was it mandatory for prisoners to wear gloves and masks?

- Mandatory was the presence of employees in protective equipment. As explained by Rospotrebnadzor, they are necessary for those who may be a potential carrier of the virus, but do not know this. Thus, protective masks protect others. In addition, personal protective equipment is used in medical units and by persons who are at high risk. We have absolutely no requirement to always wear masks and gloves for all convicted, suspected and accused. At the same time, personal protective equipment is enough, air disinfectors, non-contact thermometers are additionally purchased.

- When can we wait for the gradual lifting of quarantine measures, the return of at least short-term visits with relatives?

- In a number of regions, stabilization and improvement of the sanitary-epidemiological situation are already observed. Thus, restrictive measures have already been lifted in 23 regions. In the future, we will make decisions depending on the current situation, when we see a positive trend. We will approach differentially to each region.

- In general, how do you assess the work of FSIN officers during a pandemic?

- Surprisingly, it was during this difficult period that we all saw what selfless acts people are capable of, both in our system and in medical institutions. The interests of society are put much higher than their own. The main thing is to defeat the infection, prevent severe cases, protect the elderly and other people from the most vulnerable categories. Our employees were also no exception - they show the highest responsibility, steadily overcome the most difficult conditions of service. Judge for yourself what it means to drive in a special wagon in protective equipment for four to five days with exchanges of prisoners at stations, sleepless nights, then be on observation and then return to service again. And I have not heard of a single complaint that would have come from employees that its hard for them, that they dont pay extra for processing, they dont give a day off. I am proud that in the penal system there are employees who can perform tasks in such conditions.

Interviewed by Alexander Shashkov

Date of last update: 14.07.2020 13:17

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