Criminal Sanctions Agency increases the use of electronic services to curb the spread of coronavirus

Published 27.3.2020

The Criminal Sanctions Agency develops continuously measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus epidemic. The policies of the Government lead to changes in all units.

Reducing physical interaction is the main method of preventing the spread of the coronavirus also in the Criminal Sanctions Agency. Some of the staff have been instructed to work remotely from home but the Criminal Sanctions Agency has many duties where physical interaction is necessary, for example, in the prisons or as part of the supervision of probationary liberty. The Criminal Sanctions Agency follows the law and the instructions of the health and welfare authorities in everything it does.

Some prisons have forbidden visitors from entering the prison and cancelled prison leaves (Criminal Sactions Agencys press release 13.3.2020). Prisoners can now communicate with, among others, people close to them by using the telephone and Skype. Open prisons have been forced to make a lot of changes to their everyday routines and their operation has become more closed and restricted.

Community sanctions offices have also switched from face-to-face meetings to telephone and Skype communication. The goal of the measures is to protect both the staff and the clients from the coronavirus.

In community sanctions, the sentence plans have been changed so that the clients can fulfil their obligation to participate in activities or work also from their home if it is possible. The activities can be, among other things, written assignments, online assignments provided by substance abuse and mental health services, discussions about specific themes, and individual programmes with the supervisor over the telephone or Skype. It is important that the clients continue to receive the support they need and, for example, do not need to stop their substance rehabilitation during these exceptional circumstances.

- We are doing everything we can to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. We have staff members, prisoners, and community sanction clients who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus. Therefore, we continuously assess, for example, the duties that require close contact and the different forms of electronic monitoring and substance use control from the perspective of health and occupational safety. If the situation changes, we are ready to change our procedures quite quickly, says Director Heli Herna from the Central Administration of the Criminal Sanctions Agency.

Due to these exceptional circumstances, the supervision of sentences relies more on electronic monitoring.

- We are still supervising people, even though we use different kind of supervision. These exceptional circumstances have, in fact, increased supervision, as we now, for example, call more often to prisoners placed in probationary liberty under supervision and, thus, interact with them more. We use electronic monitoring and telephone tracking to check the location of the supervised people, describes Kaisa Tammi-Moilanen, Director of Vanaja Prison, Ojoinen Unit, and Häme Community Sanctions Office.

Motivational content of the sentence term is important

In these exceptional circumstances, access to information regarding the coronavirus is important to prisoners. The Criminal Sanctions Agency has added information and instructions regarding coronavirus in several languages to the prisoners' intranet Portti. Portti also contains links to services focusing on mental well-being and family affairs.

It is important to offer motivational content during the sentence term especially in this situation. Decisions on work and free-time activities are always made on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the legislation and the instructions of the health and welfare authorities.

Preparing for infected staff members and overcrowding in prisons

The possible spread of the coronavirus infection among the staff of the Criminal Sanctions Agency is a serious risk. The Criminal Sanctions Agency is preparing for the risk by, among other things, considering the possibility of employing retired staff members and prison officer students for a fixed term. In addition, a supplementary appropriation to the operating expenses of the Criminal Sanctions Agency has been proposed due to the additional duties caused by the coronavirus epidemic.

Preparations for the spread of the coronavirus in the prisons include, among other things, preventing the overcrowding of prisons by transferring prisoners from one prison to another and limiting the number of people entering prisons. As an example, prisons with remand prisoners must be able to transfer them to other prisons. Therefore, it is important that the transfers from closed prisons to open prisons also continue so that the closed prisons do not fill up.

In order to find solutions to these matters, the legislation is amended if need be. According to a recent decree issued by the Ministry of Justice, the enforcement of conversion sentences for fines and sentences of imprisonment of six months at most are not commenced between 19 March and 19 June 2020. The goal is to decrease the number of short-term prisoners entering prisons and, thus, reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading among the prisoners and the staff.