The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the health and rights of people in prisons, jails and detention centres particularly harshly, casting the spotlight on long standing deficiencies in many criminal justice systems around the world. Fortunately, the e-justice rooms recently introduced by UNODC and the Moldovan National Prison Administration in four major Moldovan detention centres offer an excellent example of how to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 while strengthening the fair administration of justice during such complicated times.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,the Moldovan Prison Administration has received frequent requests to escort persons detained in prison to attend trial or criminal proceedings in person. The movement of those individuals and of prison staff between facilities poses major risks of infection and could lead to deadly outbreaks of the coronavirus in prisons.
To ensure the continuation of the justice process while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 infections, since April 2021 the UNODC and the Moldovan National Prison Administration have established four e-justice rooms in the country’s most overcrowded detention centres. The rooms feature cabins fitted with videoconference equipment, enabling persons held in detention to remotely participate in their trial, speak with lawyers or prosecutors and communicate with family members, relatives or friends. Minors held in prison remand centres can also use the cubicles to access to online classes and pursue their education.
In line with necessary anti-COVID-19 measures, the cabins in the e-justice rooms are fitted with a ventilation system, germicide lamp and disinfectant dispenser. They are also separated by glass windows and equipped with an intercom system, enabling lawyers or prosecutors to come to the prison and talk to prisoners without having any physical contact. Crucially, the cubicles are soundproofed to protect the confidentiality of discussion, whether they are held online or offline.
Besides mitigating the risk and incidence of COVID-19 infections in the prison system, the e-justice rooms will contribute to the modernization of the Moldovan justice system, streamlining the justice procedure and reducing the time and expenses related to criminal proceedings. The Moldova National Prison Administration stated: “With the help of [the] new multifunctional rooms located in those four prisons we manage to triple the number of requests to attend the trials.”
The initiative is already having a positive impact on the lives of people in prisons. For example, Alexandru Pricop, who has been in prison for two years, mentioned that the e-justice rooms enabled him to attend online court hearings and speak more easily with his lawyers and relatives. For Victoria Galagan, in detention since many years, the e-justice rooms’ teleconference equipment has provided a unique opportunity to communicate with her daughters and grandchildren currently residing in France, giving her the strength to keep moving forward and look to life after her prison sentence has been served.