Nearly 10 million people—innocent or guilty—are detained in pretrial settings around the world each year, sometimes for months and even years before they are convicted or cleared of a crime. Meant to house people only temporarily, such facilities are usually overcrowded, and infectious diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis spread quickly. Few pretrial systems are prepared to meet detainees’ health needs or provide even the most basic or essential medical care.
To address some of these concerns, the Open Society Foundations in 2009 launched the Global Campaign for Pretrial Justice. Since then, the initiative—a joint project of the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Open Society Public Health Program—has piloted several innovative interventions, including medical-legal collaborations, to ensure that pretrial detainees can access better-quality health services. These efforts are chronicled and examined in our new fact sheet, “Improving Health in Pretrial Detention: Pilot Interventions and the Need for Evaluation.”
One of the projects featured is hosted by St. Petersburg–based Humanitarian Action. In Russia, the law allows for provisional release of detainees when their health conditions require it, yet the necessary medical examinations for release rarely take place. For one, law enforcement authorities often refuse to let physicians into pretrial facilities.
So Humanitarian Action found another way: the organization has coupled a lawyer with a forensic medical expert. When medical professionals are not allowed into the pretrial facilities, the lawyer instead asks the detainee a series of questions formulated by the doctor, who is then able to draw up an approximate diagnosis of the detainee’s health. Presented at court hearings, these conclusions can lead to an early release for the detainee or at least better conditions while he is incarcerated.
Such creative thinking should be rewarded, and in the case of Humanitarian Action, it has been. This month the organization has been nominated for a 2011 Innovating Justice Award, which recognizes the most promising developments in the justice sector. The winner receives up to €50,000 worth of services to continue their work.
Please take a moment to read more about Humanitarian Action’s accomplishments and acknowledge them with your vote on the Innovating Justice website.