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Observation jumpsuits are an intervention in prisoner's fundamental rights

Ombudsman: Legislator should adopt a stance on the matter

Prisons should not continue the use of so-called observation jumpsuits before the European Court of Human Rights has adopted a position on the matter and the legislation has been explicated, in the view of Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen.

These garments, which prisoners are required to wear while they are isolated for inspection purposes, have been in use in some prisons. The sleeve and neck openings of a jumpsuit are closed and the zip fastener at the back is locked with cable ties so that the prisoner can not himself take off the garment.

The Ombudsman regards the use of observation jumpsuits as a restriction of fundamental rights of a kind that should absolutely be regulated by a clear legal provision.

Observation jumpsuits not mentioned in legislation

The Ombudsman draws attention to the fact that the Prison Act does not contain a mention of observation jumpsuits.  Under the Act, a prisoner can be isolated from other prisoners and can be observed by technical means if there is a suspicion that he or she has contraband substances or objects concealed within his or her body.

Using observation jumpsuits impinges on fundamental rights in a different way from, for example, video surveillance, which limits mainly protection of the prisoner's privacy. A jumpsuit, in contrast, restricts a prisoner's free will and right of self-determination.

Investigation on own initiative arising from prisoners' complaint

The matter was investigated on the Ombudsman's own initiative on this occasion. Inmates of prisons in Riihimäki and Helsinki had complained to the Ombudsman about the matter as long ago as 2005, but the complaint could not be investigated then, because court proceedings were still in progress. 

The matter has since been referred to the European Court of Human Rights, where it is pending.

Ombudsman Jääskeläinen has sent his decision to the Criminal Sanctions Agency's central administration and asked it to inform him, by 28.2, what measures the decision has given rise to.

Additional info will be provided by Senior Legal Adviser Harri Ojala, tel. +358 (09) 4321.