Prisoners take legal action after being banned from wearing face masks

A prison corridor
A prison corridor

Prisoners at a jail in Heerhugwaard have started legal action against the prison director for failing to protect them against coronavirus – because of a ban on face masks.

In total, 19 prisoners have signed up for the legal action, the Volkskrant reported on Thursday. They claim that coronavirus cases have been reported across all parts of the prison and that in some sections, more than 75% of prisoners have been infected.

Prisoners are banned from wearing face masks but are still required to work together in the same spaces. And, the Heerhugowaard prisoners claim, people who object face extra sanctions such as being confined to their cell for longer periods.

The justice ministry has not yet seen the legal documents and cannot comment on the report, the Volkskrant said.

However, Jeroen Soeteman, chairman of the Dutch association of criminal lawyers NVSA, told the paper that the ban on face masks is an issue in other prisons as well.

And CDA MP Madeleine van Toorenburg, a former prison governer, told the paper that the policy is both wrong and dangerous. ‘The ability to read facial expressions should not be more important than health,’ she said.

In total, 8,717 people are currently in jail in the Netherlands  and, the justice ministry says, just 25 have currently tested positive for coronavirus, including eight in Heerhugowaard.

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