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Infected inmates demand compensation from state

An inmate at Dongbu Detention Center in Seoul shows a piece of paper to reporters outside the window that reads “Incompetent president and incompetent ministry of justice,” on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
An inmate at Dongbu Detention Center in Seoul shows a piece of paper to reporters outside the window that reads “Incompetent president and incompetent ministry of justice,” on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Four inmates infected with coronavirus at a detention center in Seoul filed a compensation suit against the Ministry of Justice over for a negligence of quarantine. This is the first time that prisoners at a correctional facility have filed a lawsuit against the state in relation to COVID-19.

Four inmates at Dongbu Detention Center in eastern Seoul filed a petition with the Seoul Central District Court to claim a total of 40 million won ($36,771) -- 10 million won per person -- at around 11 a.m. on Wednesday through a lawyer. They also applied for evidence preservation under closed-circuit TV at the center.

The National Compensation Act stipulates if a public official intentionally or negligently violates the law and inflicts damage to a person, the state shall compensate for the damage.

The plaintiffs were all infected with coronavirus at Dongbu Detention Center and some have now been moved to other detention centers. They are all unconvicted prisoners.

“The government failed to properly provide masks to inmates and there were insufficient quarantine measures between confirmed and ordinary inmates,” attorney Kwak Joon-ho, who represents the inmates, told The Korea Herald by phone, explaining the reason for filing the lawsuit.

He added it was a situation where the spread of infectious diseases could be expected in advance, citing the cases of spread of COVID-19 through large-scale rallies and worship services in the past.

The possibility of additional lawsuits cannot be ruled out. A total of 1,173 people -- which include prisoners, guards and their families -- were confirmed at the detention center alone with 66 additional confirmed cases, and additional lawsuits are expected to continue in the future as the first compensation suit is filed.

Kwak said it is uncertain whether additional lawsuits by other inmates will continue as those who filed the lawsuit have originally been defended by his law firm. The inmates are taking a very cautious stance because it is a lawsuit against the state, he added.

The spread of the novel coronavirus infection in jails and prisons continues.

According to the Ministry of Justice, as of 9 a.m. on Thursday, the cumulative number of confirmed cases at correctional facilities nationwide was 1,205, an increase by 2 from 5 p.m. the previous day. There are 1,163 inmates, including those released from prison, and 42 guards.

On Wednesday, an additional 66 confirmed cases were reported at Dongbu Detention Center after the center tested 429 staff members and 338 prisoners a day earlier.

The ministry has vowed to do its best to strengthen on-site inspections to prevent further infections in the future. One KF-94 mask will be provided to each inmate every day, and staff at the correctional facilities will be tested once a week to prevent the inflow of COVID-19.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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