Americas: coronavirus, prison fever
Access to healthcare, sentence adjustments, acts of protest, contacts with the outside world: what are the consequences of the pandemic on the living conditions in American prisons? // Updated on 31 December 2020 at 16:30CEST.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
24 November. The Procureur pénitentiaire de la nation (PPN) “mental health” team and its regional delegations started monitoring inmate access to mental health care in various federal prisons.
7 October. The MNP presented its annual report to the National Congress. He warned about the lack of hygienic equipment, the unsanitary conditions and overcrowding. Hygienic products have not been distributed; sanitary measures have not been applied. The MNP reported the lack of protective equipment for the staff and medical team. Prisoners do not have enough information about the virus.
7 August. The government began infrastructure work in three prisons in the province of Buenos Aires. The goal was to build 1,350 new places by the end of the year. This aimed to address the need to reduce prison overcrowding and respond to the prisoners’ demands made following the riots which occurred during the health crisis.
7 July. Inmates of Bahía Blanca Prison set up a field hospital in the Unit 4 school to prepare for an outbreak. Inmates were trained to assist the sick. Fourteen prisoners would manage the makeshift 46-bed hospital. No cases of COVID-19 were reported so far.
5-8 June. Under the “COVID-19 monitoring plan”, the National Committee for the prevention of torture (Comité Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura - CNPT) visited federal units I and II. A member of the Prison Ombudsman’s National Office (PPN) went on the visit of the Marco Paz and Ezeiza prisons with the Director-General of the Protection of Human Rights, Andrea Triolo. The aim of these visits was to observe the measures adopted during the pandemic, and to work with the authorities and prisoners.
27 May. The president announced the construction of 12 hospital units (288 beds) for prisons in the province of Buenos Aires. Four more units would be built in federal prisons. The units would be set up inside the prisons and would include sections for patients who needed to be isolated. The president acknowledged the problem of prison overcrowding and stated that: “Having people crowded together is inhumane”.
12 April. Detained persons manufactered masks and overcoats for police, doctors, nurses, firefighters and court officials. The workshops were held in the prisons of San Nicolás, Bahía Blanca, Urdampilleta, La Plata, Magdalena and Florencio Varela. They worked at least eight hours a day in the textile workshops. Some masks would also be intended for prisoners.
11 April. Health kits were distributed to 18 000 prison officers from the province of Buenos Aires. The kit consisted of 250 ml of hydro-alcoholic gel, a neutral soap and ten pairs of gloves. The prison administration and the provincial Ministry of Justice announced that 180 000 masks would be distributed to prison staff in the coming days.
1 April. The Ministry of Security and Justice and the Ministry of Health drew up a prevention protocol for the prisons in the Río Negro province. They would receive medicine, hygiene products and disinfectant for the premises. Each incoming prisoner would undergo a medical exam so that potential symptoms (cough, breathing difficulties, temperature) could be detected. Visits were, in effect, impossible following the presidential shelter in place decree.
21 September. At least 2,906 inmates were released from federal prisons between March and July, according to a report by the head of National Penitentiary Attorney’s office. Approximately 29% of them were assigned to house arrest and 26% obtained full release. The number of releases increased by 61% compared to the same period in 2018, while the number of inmates who were assigned to house arrest was eight times more.
31 July. More than 2,200 inmates in federal prisons were released since the pandemic started. This translated into a decrease of 16 % of the prison population. About 60 % of those released were at the end of their sentences.
30 April. Thousands of people protested, with a “saucepan concert”, (cacerolazo) against the authorities’ announcement they would proceed with mass releases, which had not actually occurred. There had been no signs of “mass releases”. Paula Litvachky, lawyer and Executive Director of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), said that less than 500 prisoners in the province of Buenos Aires, or 1% of its prison population, had been placed under house arrest between mid-March and mid-April. The requests for release made by offenders who had committed serious crimes were examined by courts on a casebycase basis. Litvachky stated that while some decisions had certainly caused problems, they were few and far between.
17 April. The prison administration published a guide for released detainees and their relatives during the epidemic. The guide includes information on institutions that could provide help to inmates and their families, as well as other resources.
22 March. The prosecutor’s office and Defence Ministry reported that they had received 565 requests for alternative sentencing from the prisoners of Buenos Aires in two days, pertaining to house arrest or the cancellation of temporary detention orders in particular. The requests would be studied on a case by case basis.
Contact with the outside world
24 November. The Procureur pénitentiaire de la nation (PPN) continued monitoring visits to federal prisons. The PPN “gender and sexual diversity” team visited two facilities: Complejo Penitenciario Federal IV andUnidad 31 prisons. Team members met with prison officials to discuss new visitation protocols and the construction of a new hospital unit. The PPN delegation visited two sections of the Complejo Penitenciario Federal I in the province of Ezeiza.
18 June. The authorities reported that, since the authorisation of mobile phones, more than 22 000 prisoners had registered a device with the prison service.
3 June. The Procurator for the Prison System (Procuración Penitenciaria de la Nación) said that phone calls between prisoners and their families were of crucial importance. He recommended that phone lines be set up to allow the reception of calls in federal prisons. The compensation measures currently in place (video calls, distribution of free phone cards) enabling calls to the outside were, in his view, insufficient.
2 April. The supreme court (Tribunal de Casación penal) allowed the use of mobile phones, tablets and laptops in the prisons of Buenos Aires. The measure would remain in place while visits were suspended. The use of social media was still forbidden, with the exception of WhatsApp. Prisoners who already owned a mobile phone could notify prison authorities and sort out how and when they would use it.
18 March. The Santa Fe prison administration announced that all visits are suspended until 31 March.
Acts of protest
24 November. The MNP reported that there were 80 protest movements since March over prison restriction measures. Most of the protests occurred before dialogue was established between inmates and administration. According to the MNP, these dialogues led to a peaceful resolution of the conflicts.
19 October. A COVID-19 positive inmate took hostage a supervisor to the cell where he was isolated, at Piñero prison. The prisoner claimed to be anxious and asked to speak to someone. Prison authorities arrived, spoke to the prisoner and things returned to normal within two hours.
16 July. Inmates in the San Salvador de Jujuy prison started a riot after hearing about positive cases and a sick inmate in another prison. Authorities confirmed that there were no positive cases in the San Salvador de Jujuy prison. The inmates demanded better detention conditions. The police were called in after three hours of rioting. Two prisoners died and the number of wounded was not reported.
July. Inmates at the 1st police station of Marcos Paz were concerned about a positive case. They voiced this concern and 28 of them were beaten by police. The OIP Argentine denounced the violence and called for a court appointed doctor to examine the wounds received (careful: sensitive content) and the health status of the prisoners.
Over 8 300 people were detained in Argentine police stations.
27 April. Hundreds of prisoners incarcerated in Santa Fe province went on hunger strikes.
24 April. A riot broke out at Villa Devoto prison after it had been confirmed that one of the guards had tested positive for COVID-19. Prisoners demanded emergency sanitary measures and the implementation of release procedures. Some prisoners climbed up on the roofs, set fire to mattresses and took over two floors. One of their banners read: “We refuse to die in gaol”. The protest lasted nine hours. Prisoner representatives agreed to meet with the authorities to discuss their demands. No casualties were reported.
23 April. The Buenos Aires prison authorities recorded 1,184 prisoners on hunger strike. They were incarcerated in the following prisons: Unidad 41 de Campana (332 prisoners), La Plata (141), Unidad 48 de San Martín (97), Alcaidia de Olmos (70), Unidad 39 de Ituzaingó (42), Sierra Chica (26), Hornos (22) and Florencia Varela (25). Prisoners demanded they be placed under house arrest, as per the ruling of the Court of Cassation.
24 March. Five prisoners die following uprisings on March 23. Four of them died at the Sante Fe prison, where a special forces operations corps (Tropa de Operaciones Especiales) intervened. An inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deaths is currently under way.
23 March. Prisoners of Florencio Varela, Coronda, Las Flores and Batán prisons rose up. Some detainees climbed on the roofs, others tried to escape. One detained person died, and several were injured. They demanded sanitary preventive measures against the coronavirus. They denounced the lack of measures they consider elementary such as the quarantine of detainees, returning to detention after temporary absences, or the application of barrier actions by staff during team changes.
Appeals and recommendations
6 November. The Argentine NPM met with the judicial authorities of the province of Buenos Aires. They discussed the current situation of prisons in the province, as well as possible inter-institutional cooperation to address the problems identified. The NPM affirmed that “the current situation of prisons in Buenos Aires is a serious violation of human rights.” The NPM also reminded the authorities that an investigation into the repression of protest movements must be carried out and those responsible must be punished.
2 November. The NPM called on the authorities of the province of Buenos Aires to re-establish an inter-institutional dialogue to deal with violence committed against inmates by its agents. The NPM expressed regret at overcrowding in Buenos Aires prisons and called on authorities to abolish the use of police custody facilities as places of prolonged detention. The NPM reminded the authorities that “the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be the reason for the suspension or delay of judicial decisions on temporary absences, parole or any other rights inherent in the adjustment of sentences.”
4 August. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations denounced the decision of the federal justice system to isolate prisoners for an indefinite period of time. The prison administration justified this measure by stating that it was necessary to avoid contagion. The UN and the IACHR criticised the detention conditions in these isolation cells: prisoners would be completely cut off from the outside world and have no access to medical care.
28 March. The association Espacio de Derecho Popular, members of civil society, relatives of detained persons and lawyers jointly deposited a Habeas Corpus Correctivo Colectivo. The latter calls for measures to be taken to guarantee the right to health and physical integrity of persons deprived of their liberty. It concerns prisoners from prison facilities in the province of Córdoba: the prisons of Bouwer, facility of Monte Crito and Unidad de Contención del Aprehendido (UCA). This habeas corpus called for emergency measures, in particular: • the immediate adoption of sanitary and hygienic measures in prison facilities, through respective official protocols and their control by the competent authorities • the provision of hygiene and disinfection equipment, medicines and access to periodic medical checks • maintaining contact of persons deprived of their liberty with the outside world, whether with their lawyers or with their families, by means of alternatives to visits (telephone calls or free videoconferences, for example).
25 March. The situation in Buenos Aires prisons following the sickness is particularly tense. The IOP expressed its concern in an email addressed to the Assistant Secretary of Human Rights of the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires Province. It criticizes:
- the suspension of temporary leave instead of a possible house arrest
- the suspension of all visits from loved ones, through which detained individuals received food and medicines Argentina’s IOP also puts forward the lack of healthcare adapted for diabetic and injured prisoners. It pointed out that people suffering from digestive problems have difficulty eating. The association believes that prisons are in a state of health emergency. It is asking for fast and proper intervention.
13 March. The Argentinian section of the International Observatory of Prisons sent a letter to the Minister of Justice and Human rights. The association shares its concerns about the current health crisis and the “explosive situation of the prison systems”. The OIP draws attention to the sanitary problems and the lack of food in the country’s prisons, many of them being already faced with outbreaks of dengue fever and measles. The Association calls the Federal Penitentiary Service to meet in order to set up a strategy and avoid a situation similar to the one experienced in Italian prisons.
28 December. the virus continues to spread within the country’s prisons, with a high death rate of 3,5 %. A total of 1,754 prisoners tested positive and 62 have passed away.
24 November. The number of positive cases among inmates reached 1, 629. The province of Córdoba is the most affected by the virus, with 403 inmates testing positive. The number of deaths from COVID-19 rose to 60. Almost half of the deceased inmates (28) were from prisons in the province of Buenos Aires.
28 October. The MNP reported 1, 539 positive cases of COVID-19 and 53 deaths among inmates.
7 October. The MNP is concerned about the death rate of prisoners infected with COVID-19. It is twice as high as the public, even though the rate of contagion is half as high. According to the NPM, this is caused by the insufficient access to health care in prison.
24 September. The MNP (Comité Nacional para la Prevención de la Torture, CNPT) reports of 756 positive inmates, in the provincial (366) and federal (390) prison systems. Thirty-six inmates have died from COVID-19.
21 September. The National Penitentiary Attorney was concerned about the increasing spread of COVID-19 in the country’s federal prisons. His recent report showed a total of 374 positive cases and 13 deaths among inmates.
31 August. The number of inmates testing positive increased in federal prisons to 390. Thirteen of them died. Most of the cases were concentrated in the Complejos I de Ezeira, II de Marcos Paz and CABA de Devoto facilities. The average age of dead inmates was 67.
6 August. Seven inmates in federal prisons died of COVID-19 and 221 tested positive since the pandemic started.
Jorge Rigre Acosta and Miguel Etchecolatz, both members of the past military dictatorship who were found guilty of crimes against humanity, tested positive at the Ezeiza prison.
25 July. Twenty-eight prisoners and seven guards tested positive in the Campo de Mayo military prison. Two veterans who were in that prison died.
3 July. The number of inmates in the federal prisons who tested positive increased to 53.
19 April. Authorities confirmed the first case of a prisoner having tested positive. He was quarantined at Presidente Perón hospital. The inmate, who was being treated for chronic renal failure, was carrying out a life sentence at the Florencio Varela prison. Authorities believed that he was contaminated at the hospital during his treatment. Ten prison staff members and five inmates who were in contact with him were sheltered in place. They did not yet show any symptoms.
13 April. An agent certified that 4 medical staff members tested positive in the Devoto prison in Buenos Aires. Fifteen other doctors and nurses were placed under observation and were isolated at home or in a clinic.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
25 September. The Minister of Security announced that cases of infection among staff were very low. A few days earlier, the Correctional Commissioner indicated that no cases had been detected among staff. Prison staff are very concerned about the possible spread of the virus.
16 July. The Bahama Tetecommunications Company (BTC) donated personal protective equipment to correctional services: re-usable masks, face shields, coveralls and hand sanitiser.
16 July. Forty-eight inmates were granted early release. They were all reaching the end of their sentences.
Contact with the outside world
1 December. Visits remain suspended at Fow Hill Road prison. They were put on hold in March after the country’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed. Prison officials said they are not taking “any chances”. “One visit could turn the whole prison into chaos”, said a prison commissioner.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 121
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
19 April. The protocols set up for managing health emergencies and strengthened during episodes of influenza were implemented. All visits were suspended. All prisoners entering the prison for the first time were now being interviewed on their health status and having their temperatures tested. They are then placed in an isolated area and periodically tested for 14 days before being allowed entry to the general prison quarters. All prison officers are temperature tested and sanitize their hands on entry through the prison gates.
31 December. Two prison officers tested positive at Island’s Dodds prison. Officials announced they would carry out mass testing on all officers and inmates in this facility. The Barbados Defence Force was mobilised to provide security, as many of the officers had to self-isolate while waiting for test results.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 24
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
15 December. Belize central prison received donations of protective equipment from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Canadian government after the identification of a large “cluster” in the facility.
10 October. Officials ordered a general lockdown of Hattieville prison due to the increase of COVID-19 cases. According to the Kolbe Foundation, responsible for running this facility since 2002, there were sections being set up to quarantine inmates who tested positive.
3 June. The agency Caricom Impacs provided sanitary equipment to reinforce the hygienic procedures in the country’s main prison. There were no reported cases at this point.
21 March. A confinement zone has been installed in the unoccupied buildings of the Hattieville central prison. Additional hygiene measures have been introduced.
Contact with the outside world
21 March. Visits from close relations and lawyers are suspended in the Hattieville central prison. The 1100 prisoners affected will be able to maintain contact via telephone. Close relations continue to be authorised to come and leave money.
16 October. The government studied the possibility of granting releases to some inmates in order to reduce prison overcrowding. At least 630 inmates may be eligible for parole.
16 October. Officials reported 61 COVID-19 positive cases: 37 staff members and 24 inmates. A total of 128 staff and 271 inmates were tested.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
24 March Heightened hygiene guidelines have been implemented in the Westgate prison.
Contact with the outside world
19 March. Authorities announce the suspension of all visits and the consultation for an alternative plan. Prison staff are encouraged to “act with caution and to watch out for movements and gatherings”.
27 July. The number of inmate deaths due to COVID-19 in Cochabamba prisons was eight.
9 July. The director of prison administration reported that 91 inmates were carrying the SARS-CoV2 virus.
8 July. The management of San Pedro prison confirmed the death of seven prisoners, presumably as a result of COVID-19. The prison was seriously overcrowded: It housed then 1 400 prisoners in 400 places. 20 prisoners were placed in solitary confinement on suspicion of having contracted the virus.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
9 July. The San Pedro prison in La Paz received a donation of protective equipment from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Bolivia. Authorities sectioned off areas for quarantine and for testing in the facilities. Telephone lines allowed families of inmates to keep informed.
5 April. San Pedro de Oruro prison was visited by teams tasked with its disinfection. It was provided with biosecurity suits. The director of the penitentiary system announced that the equipment would also be delivered to other prisons. Visits were suspended in the country’s 56 prisons. Food packages, prepared by friends and family, were still allowed.
26 May. The Supreme Court, Public Ministry, Public defender services and the prison administration set up a visiting schedule and planned to speed up some of the administrative procedures. They hoped that this would expedite the release of prisoners, in response to the 4 May Presidential Decree (Decree 4226 on Amnesty and Pardon for medical reasons and for national health emergencies).
11 April. The government granted pardon to detainees over the age of 58. The pardon would also benefit mothers of 55 years of age and over. This measure excluded anyone convicted for femicide or for the rape of a minor.
Appeals and recommendations
9 July. Prison authorities asked the judges to expedite the application of the presidential decree on pardons. They revealed that only 300 prisoners had benefited from the decree. The country’s 48 prisons then held 18,000 inmates, 80 % of whom were on remand.
Acts of protest
27 July. Inmates in four Cochabamba prisons staged an uprising following the news that three new deaths had occurred in their facilities. They demanded better medical services, access to medication, and testing.
19 June. Prisons started a riot at San Roque after a prisoner with COVID-19 symptoms died. They demanded for medical care to be improved, throwing stones and various objects at the prison building. The local newspaper El Correa del Sur reported that a prisoner had been injured during the riot before being transferred to the hospital. The riot lasted around two hours. Police and firefighters were deployed to break it up. A video taken from inside the prison showed clouds of smoke.
11 May. A riot erupted at Palmasola (Santa Cruz) following the death of an inmate who tested positive for COVID-19. The contagion was identified after an autopsy. Protesters demanded more medical care and better conditions of detention to deal with the virus. They claimed that the practice of social distancing was almost non-existent in detention: Palmasola is the largest prison in the country, with a capacity of 800 places for a total of 6 000 prisoners. The riot was suppressed by the police.
12 April. Inmates climbed on the roofs of the Oruro prison, south of La Paz, during a riot. They demanded better access to medical care. A prisoner mentioned that a fellow prisoner had passed away the day before the revolt because he did not receive adequate care. The Interior Ministry denied any act of negligence.
19 March. No coordinated measures have been yet established between the Minister of Justice and the State prison administrations to face the current sanitary crisis. The implemented measures differ according to the kind of facilities, in particular between those managed by the central government (Federal Prisons) and those under the responsibility of each federal State:
- Federal prisons: the Minister of Justice announced on 16 March that all family visits would be suspended for 15 days and lawyer visits for five days.
- State managed prisons: measures range from the full or partial suspension of visits to the display or dissemination of a sanitary and prevention information note. In some facilities, visitors are screened and selected.
Sanitary conditions and access to health care
23 December. Pastoral Carcerária denounced human rights violations against inmates during the transfer of 1,154 prisoners from Coronel Odenir Guimarães prison (state of Goiás). The religious organization alleged that the transfer was executed without masks, personal protective equipment and without the necessary distancing measures.
11 December. The government omitted the prison population from the national vaccination plan. Prisoners were originally part of a priority and at-risk group mentioned in the first round of vaccinations when the plan was presented on 1 December. The prison population was the only category to be removed from the priority group. No explanation was provided for this decision. According to Infovirus, in addition to the risks caused by overcrowding, many inmates have hypertension, tuberculosis, and other serious co-morbidity issues.
8 December. Between 25 November and 2 December, the Desencarcera RJ platform received 98 complaints about the lack of water and food in 12 Rio de Janeiro state prisons. The complaints cited cuts in electricity in at least four facilities. The MNP (Mecanismo Estadual de Prevenção e Combate à Tortura/RJ) local commission pointed out that, of the 141 people who died during the pandemic, 20 had suffered from malnutrition and dehydration.
26 November. INFOVIRUS criticized the lack of access to medical and mental health care in prisons in the State of Minas Gerais. At least 26 inmates took their lives in early 2020.
10 November. A local group of inmates’ families at the Minas Gerais, protested against the detention and visiting conditions. Inmates at Nelson Hungria prison, in the town of Contagem were made to stand in the rain without proper rainwear during visits. Inmates at Dênio Moreira de Carvalho prison reported physical and verbal abuse and threats from staff. They reported that guards carry firearms at all times illegally. They also denounced not being given parcels from their families and reported on the lack of care for inmates who were positive for COVID-19.
22 October. A local group of inmates’ families at the Paraná, denounced the lack of water, food and electricity at the prison farm in the town of Piraquara.
30 September. An inmate from Caucaia prison with breathing difficulties died after being abandoned by escort officers in front of a care unit. The escort officers reportedly declared the person in question to be isolated and destitute (indigent). The collective A voz do cárcere is mobilising to demand another autopsy and organise the burial.
14 September. A video shared on social media denounced the lack of medical care for prisoners in Alagoas State. The footage showed sick inmates lying on the floor unassisted. The guards took them out of their overcrowded cells where the inmates could no longer breathe.
1 September. In the state of Maranhão, the Prison Monitoring and Follow-up Unit, a judicial inspection body, visited prisons in four towns: Rosário, Itapecuru, Chapadinha and Tutóia. One of the unit’s judges reported an “improvement in the overall State prison system “. He stated, however, that “there are common problems, such as overcrowding and the need to improve the infrastructure of prisons, particularly the water supply, cell renovations and enlarging outdoor areas”.
7 August. At Minas Gerais, former inmates of Professor Jacy de Assis prison testified about detention conditions during the pandemic. They stated that since the suspension of visits, acts of physical, and psychological torture had intensified. Relatives reported hearing calls for help from the prison’s surroundings. Recently, released inmates reported acts of violence, especially from the Rapid Intervention Group (GIR). The GIR is accused of unjustified and disproportionate use of tear gas and tear gas canisters. “Because of this pandemic, we cannot communicate with our families. We will hold hands, there is no reason to suffer retaliation. We just want to fight for our rights”, said one prisoner.
3 August. The Supreme Court overturned President Bolsonaro’s veto, which lifted the mandatory wearing of masks in detention. The court considered the president’s decision “inappropriate”. Wearing masks is now mandatory for prison personnel.
17 July. Female inmates at the Aparecida de Goiânia prison wrote a “letter calling for help” following the confirmation of 11 ill female inmates out of 12 who were tested. They denounced the precarious access to care, the lack of personal hygiene products and water. They reported that the food served at meals was rotten. The president of the OAB Human Rights Committee said that COVID-19 exposed the problems that had been denounced by the Committee for years. Correction Services stated that inmates who tested positive were quarantined and were asymptomatic.
6 July. The president increased its veto power to include the legislation on mask wearing in prisons. From then, masks were not mandatory in prisons and the administration was not obliged to post notices about the need to wear masks in the facilities.
6 July. The President again watered down the law on the wearing of masks in public places. An article on “the wearing of masks in correctional facilities” was removed from the text of the law.
27 May. Authorities constructed a 1 000 m2 field hospital inside the Papuda prison, in Brasília. The hospital would continue to operate when the pandemic would be over. A prisoner in semi-open prison regime of that facility complained about the living conditions and the lack of testing. He asked for psychological support for prisoners and he stated that the tension was behind the few escape attempts. Other Papuda prisoners complained about the lack of personal hygiene products and disinfectants, as well as promiscuity in the outside recreation areas.
19 May. The National Council on Criminal and Penal Matters (CNPCP) refused to use containers to isolate vulnerable prisoners. However, it authorised the construction of “exceptional facilities”, without detailing any architectural criteria. Former CNPCP members criticised the decision. They denounced fluctuating rules, saying that such facilities could heighten the risk of contagion. Finally, they were worried about the construction of precarious structures on prison premises.
11 May. The director of the prison staff union of Sao Paulo (Sifuspesp) was concerned about the increase in cases among staff members. He mentioned the difficulty many of them had had in accessing screening tests. Some were ostracised in towns where the mayors declared that the prison system was the “vector of the disease”. The head of the union stated that several colleagues supported President Bolsonaro’s speech downplaying the severity of the pandemic. Some refused to use protective equipment. The union’s strategy was to raise staff’s awareness of the severity of the pandemic, and the President’s to declare that they were the ones bringing the virus inside.
8 May. A prison staff union in Rio, Sindsistema, initiated legal proceedings so that staff who were over 60, breastfeeding their children or pregnant could benefit from leave or work from home. The court ruled in its favour, but the prison administration appealed. It stated that prison officers were not able to work from home and that the shortage of staff represented a “risk of collapse” for the prison system and could contribute to riots and escapes. The administration won the appeal. The director of Sindsistema criticised the ruling. He announced that more than 100 prison officers in Rio were on sick leave due to COVID-19. Two of them were in critical condition and one had died.
20 April. The Ministry of Justice was investigating the possibility of installing containers in order to temporarily isolate vulnerable non-contaminated prisoners. The coordinator of the NGO Conectas criticized this idea. He recalled that the federal government was slow to make decisions to prevent the spread of the virus in the country’s prisons and that it had “launched an offensive” against the recommendations of release from the CNJ.
7 April. The prison administration affirmed that the prison facilities lack doctors. Official data show a ratio of 1 doctor and 1.83 nurses per 1 000 prisoners. The administration claims, despite these figures, that “it is not fair” to speak of the precariousness of the prison environment.
1 April. Women detained in the penitentiary center of Anísio Jobim (Manaus) produced protective masks. These were intended for prison staff and public security agents. Forty sewing machines were provided. The objective was to produce 10 000 masks per day. The initiative could be extended to all the penal facilities in the state of Amazonas. The administration of this state signed an agreement with a fuel distribution company and a chemical factory providing alcohol supplies for the disinfection of prisons.
25 March. Detainees from Sao Paulo compose protective masks. The daily production is estimated at 26,000 masks.
20 March. The Minister of Justice affirms that the government intends to vaccinate the detainees against the common flu. This measure would help avoid confusion between the flu symptoms and those of the coronavirus. The Minister is against releasing detainees. He prefers to evaluate case-by-case.
24 November. The CNJ authorised virtual court hearings (audiência de custódia) for inmates who have been examined previously for any signs of violence. Rooms for virtual hearings must be equipped with a camera that allows a judge to have a full view of the locale in which the accused is being held. More than 70 organisations, namely those of court clerks and human rights groups, are opposed to this decision. In a letter to the president of the CNJ, they say that without in-person contact, a judge cannot verify if an inmate was tortured and is unable to evaluate properly if it is necessary to keep the accused in custody. The president of the CNJ justified the decision by claiming that the present situation requires exceptional measures. He reiterated that the virtual sessions will follow protocols that, according to him, will prevent any violence from occurring.
9 September. In the state of Roraima, court sessions (audiência de custódia) have restarted. Before September, they had been held only for urgent cases. The sessions will be conducted under the following health precautions: installation of plexiglas between participants, temperature checks, distribution of masks and hand sanitizers, as well as sanitizing the room between each session.
1 July. In Joinville, the sentencing judge decided to resume the court sessions in person. He acknowledged that “video-conferencing can be useful, but it may hinder the ability to thoroughly defend.”
23 June. More than 150 judges, lawyers and social organisations wrote a letter to the National Justice Council to protest against holding hearings (custody hearings) via video conference. They requested the Council to veto this proposal. Such proceedings would not allow the judge to identify possible signs of torture and to offer the defendant a suitable environment in which to be heard.
23 September. The number of inmates in the State of São Paulo was the lowest on record since seven years. Approximately 216,000 people were detained in September 2020. There were close to 234,000 in May 2019. According to experts, one of the reasons for the decrease is the pandemic. The number of arrests decreased by 25.2 % between January and July 2020. Up to now, 5,551 inmates have been released, thanks to a COVID-19 judicial order.
25 August. Officials in the state of Alagoas reported that there were 1,148 releases between 17 March and 10 August. About 600 inmates (6.5 % of this state’s prison population) were released following the National Council of Justice’s recommendation number 62.
7 August. In Santa Catarina, the court refused the request for a collective habeas corpus for low-risk inmates. The request, made by the public defence, was for the house arrest of persons convicted of so-called minor offences, as well as persons placed in a semi-open regime. According to the court’s decision, sentence adjustments must be considered on a case-by-case basis.
4 August. A group of researchers from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) and the Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM) examined the decisions of magistrates regarding applications for sentence adjustments in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The group reported that in May, 92% of the 486 applications were denied.
23 July. The Justice Department in Bahia reported that 3,153 release orders were carried out between March and June. Most of the inmates released had been in semi-open facilities or in prison for so-called minor offences.
12 June. The National Justice Council (CNJ) reported that at least 32,500 detainees were released (under house arrest or placed under electronic surveillance) since the beginning of the pandemic, about 4.8% of the national prison population.
8 June. The legal authorities of Sao Paulo responded favourably to 3% of release requests (726 releases out of 25 800 requests). The difficulty of providing proof that inmates are at risk was, according to lawyers, one of the main obstacles.
8 May. In the State of Sao Paulo, 3,190 prisoners were released. 72% of them had been provisionally detained and 10% were women. The lawyer and director of NGO Institute for Defence of the Right to Defence (Instituto de Defesa do Direito de Defesa, IDDD) stated that the number was “derisory”. She recalled that the prison population of Sao Paulo was made up of at least 25 000 prisoners belonging to atrisk groups. Brazil’s bar council (OAB) requested that a list of the names of vulnerable prisoners be made available to judges to facilitate the consideration of requests for conditional release.
7 April.. The director general of the prison administration requested, through a private message to the authorities of the country, to transmit any information relating to the commission of serious and violent crimes on the part of persons released during the crisis. The prison administration requested, this time through official channels, that the state intelligence bodies inform them of the whereabouts and of the data available on the persons released. The positioning of the prison administration followed that of the government of President Bolsonaro who regularly spoke out against measures to release prisoners due to the health crisis.
6 April. The prison administration estimated that around 30 000 detainees had been released or obtained an accommodation, in accordance with the recommendations of the CNJ. Some of them were placed under electronic surveillance. There were approximately 60 000 prisoners who were going to complete their sentences before the health crisis.
19 March. The Public Defender Congregation (Condege) filed an urgent petition for a presidential pardon to President Jair Bolsonaro. Pardons would benefit people at risk, as well as women prisoners with minor children and breastfeeding women. The petition comprises people at risk sentenced for drug trafficking or serving for more than eight years. In case of rejection of the original petition, Condege is requesting for at least women prisoners with children up to two years to be released. It is stressing that “if nothing is done, we’ll witness mass deaths in penitentiaries.”
16 March. The tribunal of Justice of the State of Minas Gerais published an order on 16 March 2020 requesting all prisons to address the pandemic spread. It recommends that all people in semi-liberty and open prison regime should be placed under house arrest. This order is not applicable to those accused of a severe disciplinary default. Prisoners incarcerated for minor infractions such as the non-payment of alimony must also be placed under house arrest. The tribunal recommends that the situation of at-risk prisoners should be evaluated so that they can access to alternative measures to incarceration. The following groups are concerned: people suffering from diabetes, heart disorders, VIH-aids, tuberculosis, kidney failure, elderly prisoners over 60 and individuals in post-operatory situation. The tribunal highlighted that these measures are aimed at guaranteeing the safety of prisoners and of prison staff. It pointed out the current lack of beds in prison infirmaries.
Contact with the outside world
30 December. Infovirus published a series of testimonies from former prisoners and inmate relatives in Papuda prison(federal district). The testimonies denounced the lack of health-care and food, as well as cases of torture and ill treatment. They revealed a significant deterioration of the detention conditions since the beginning of the pandemic, especially with the suspension of visits. According to the report, these visits are essential, as they are a source of food and supplies for the inmates, and are an opportunity to learn about the abuses occurring in prison. The coordinator of the project Infovírus mentioned that “the pandemic in prisons is a tragedy”.
26 November. In Minas Gerais, family visits have once more been suspended in some of the prisons due to the increasing number of cases among inmates. The affected prisons were Uberaba, Araxá, Furtal, Carmo do Paranaíba and Itapagipe.
9 November. The federal prison system announced the gradual resumption of visits. Every inmate will be able to receive a visit from a loved one for an hour per month. Visits are limited to one adult and one minor per inmate. Video calls, which started in August, will continue.
4 November. Authorities in the State of São Paulo announced that visits were resumed gradually in most of the prisons beginning on the weekend of 7 and 8 November. Visits were to be held on a rotation basis, according to a schedule set-up by the authorities. They are limited to one visitor per inmate for a period of two hours, and held in open areas, or in case of rain, in “airy” spaces. Visitors must be at least 18 and no older than 59. Masks are mandatory. Visitors are still not allowed to bring produce or food to inmates. Inmates’ families will continue to send parcel by mail
14 October. In the state of São Paulo, the prisoners’ families met with the prison administration. They asked to resume physical visits. They reported difficulties in communicating by video conference or e-mail. The São Paulo prison staff unions opposed to resuming visits.
5 October. At least six inmates in the Rio Grande do Sul went on a hunger strike and some families demonstrated for the resumption of visits, which have been suspended since 23 March. Officials stated that the visits would resume on 16 October and that each facility had its own schedule.
30 September. Visits gradually resumed in 38 prisons in the State of Pará. The first visits took place between September 21 and 25 and followed a health protocol established by the Pará health department. Visitors must wear a mask and all physical contact is prohibited.
22 September. Little information is available on the prison conditions in the northern region of the country, according to Infovírus. The preventive measures on visitation suspension make it difficult for external parties, such as family members and legal representatives, to observe prison conditions in the north.
19 September. In the State of Alagoas, a court decision ordered the prison administration to establish a new schedule for the prisoners families to organise the distribution of food parcels. A sanitary protocol has been installed for the reception of the parcels.
5 September. Out of 52 prisons in the state of Maranhão, 42 have the equipment necessary to facilitate online visits. Laptop computers were made available through a partnership between the state and the NGO Humanitas360.
Many people felt “relieved” to be able to see their loved ones in prison, but complained that these types of visits were not long enough. The wife of one inmate said they were given only five minutes and there were problems with the connection. She said she could see that her husband’s cell in São Luís was overcrowded. Prison officials announced that online visits will continue after the pandemic, particularly for inmates located far from their families.
2 August. In the state of Espírito Santo, the Collective of Relatives of Prisoners Desencarcera ES would regularly receive reports of rights violations in different institutions. A number of inmates stated that they had not been given the opportunity to inform their families of their hospitalisation.
14 July. Some judges conducted inspection visits to the prisons of different States, following CNJ guidelines. They pointed out the importance of these visits during this time of increased quarantining of inmates since the suspension of visits. One of the visiting judges, Geraldo Fernandes, emphasised the importance of maintaining contact between the authorities, the inmates and their families : “Seeing a judge inside a prison shows that these people are not forgotten. The health conditions and their dignified treatment are also verified. It is very important to establish this contact as it also helps prevent fake news. I came in person, and that is re-assuring for families”.
12 July. Families of inmates at the Espírito Santo demanded better access to information. They denounced the violations of their rights. Following a demonstration held by the families, local authorities announced that:
- regulations about calls would be in place within 30 days
- a protocol for visits would be created in partnership with the inmate family associations
- a permanent channel would be implemented within 15 days to facilitate communication between the associations and the Justice Secretariat (Sejus).
1 July. Families in the Federal District reported that they had problems contacting their loved ones in prison and obtaining information on the health of those who tested positive. They denounced the precarious situation in the PDF-I and PDF-II prisons. Some of the inmates slept on the floor, did not have enough cleaning supplies and reported that it could take two months to receive packages from loved ones. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) of the Federal District Legislative Assembly reported it had received over 300 complaints from the families.
27 June. In Santa Catarina, the sentence enforcement judge visited the prison in Joinville and reported problems with the surrendering of personal hygiene items sent by loved ones. Prisoners were missing clothes, sheets, towels and deodorant. The judge noted that the videoconferencing tool was not accessible to everyone. Since the suspension of visits, prisoners had the right to a video call every two weeks.
25 June. In Minas Gerais, the Group of relatives and families of prisoners, together with movements for the release of prisoners protested at the administrative district in Belo Horizonte. The protesters requested more information. They noted the lack of water, food, sheets and toiletries in the State prisons.
In Roraima, families and relatives also condemned the lack of information shared by the authorities. “We have no idea what is going on in there “, said one relative.
16 June. Relatives reported that they had to rely on rumours from medical and prison staff to obtain news on the state of the health of detainees. Carolina, the mother of a detainee incarcerated in Rio de Janeiro, reported that families were sharing news on an informal group on WhatsApp. When someone learnt, for instance, that a detainee had died, they shared the information to the group. “It’s a desperate fear… it’s torture for us”, she said.
1 June. In Sao Paulo, the judicial authorities ordered that the administration at least guaranteed detainees the right to receive visits. This decision stated that the letter exchange could not be the only means of communication.
25 March. The state administration of Sao Paulo suspends until further notice the option for families to bring packages (called jumbos). These packages regularly contain hygiene products, food and other goods. The measure, applied to 230,000 prisoners, responds to the concerns of the prison staff regarding the risk of contamination linked to the family visits in front of the prisons. The packages, as well as money transfers can now be sent by mail. The prison staff union of São Paulo (Sifupesp) says that these measures are not adequate: “the ´jumbo´ exists for the lack of response from the State, but it is the State which must be responsible”.
Acts of protest
19 October. Videos of a confrontation among inmates in Carirí prison (Tocantins) circulated on social media. It broke out after a group of inmates decided to go on a hunger strike to protest the atrocious prison conditions and the other group refused to participate. Officials announced that “ order was re-established in the facility“, and did not report any injuries related to the incident. Families of inmates demonstrated in front of several other prisons in the State of Tocantins and in front of the legislature, demanding that visits suspended since 14 March be resumed.
28 September. A riot broke out at Ponte Nova prison (Minas Gerais). Videos of the riot, published on social networks, showed burning cells and inmates banging on bars. Families claimed that inmates are revolting against the ill treatment of prisoners and the visitation suspension. The riot was controlled, and no serious incidents were reported.
24 September. Inmates of Nelson Hungria prison published an open letter demanding the resumption of visits and an end to aggression and abuse. They also called for an open dialogue with prison authorities.
22 September. In the Paraná, 36 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 escaped from Cambará prison. Two of them were captured. The inmates escaped through a 30-meter tunnel. During the previous week, the prison had reported 118 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19.
28 August. About 200 women and families of inmates protested on the streets of Maceió (Alagoas). They denounced torture in prisons and claimed that inmates were “forced to drink their own urine, were not allowed out to walk and were not given any food”. They demanded that the ban on visits and the sending of packages be lifted.
21 July. In the state of Goiás, untried prisoners at Rio Verde prison revolted. They protested about the lack of food, water and medical care, as well as the presence of COVID-19 in the prison. The military police intervened to quell the movement. Correctional Services said the police used only non-lethal weapons. One inmate was injured.
14 July. Members of the penitentiary police (policiais penais) protested in front of Piraquara prison. Fifteen prison officials were on sick leave at the time. Demonstrators called for “emergency” recruitment and mass screening of staff and inmates.
25 May. The prison administration obtained 19 million reais (3.1 million euros) of extra funding to buy “non-lethal” equipment (including grenades, ammunitions and pepper spray) dans le but de “supply units with uprising prevention equipment, following the suspension of visits”. Authorities believe that the interruption of contact between detainees and their relatives are a source of tension and may lead to uprisings in the future. Infovírus, the COVID-19 observatory for Brazilian prisons, criticised the actions of the prison administration. It regretted its refusal to provide lists for prisoners who are at risk, and implement widespread testing and its allocating of further resources to repression.
For further information, go to the news feed of Infovírus, an initiative by universities and Brazilian researchers who follow the evolution of the pandemic in national prisons.
2 April. A riot broke out in Puraquequara prison in Manaus. Prisoners protested against the suspension of visits. Seven members of staff were taken hostage by prisoners. The protesters said, in a video, that some prisoners were ill. However, the authorities declared that there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the prison.
17 March. The administration of the state of Sao Paulo reported acts of protest and hundreds of prison breaks after the authorities announced the suppression of semi-liberty measures. The prisons of Monguaga, Tremembe, Porto Feliz and Mirandopolis were affected. The administration mentioned that some 1 000 prisoners might have “taken off”.
Appeals and recommendations
24 August. In the state of Amazonas, civil society organisations and families of inmates appealed to prison supervisory bodies, denouncing the lack of transparency concerning medical care in prison. They claimed that the administration never communicated their testing protocol at any point during the pandemic. They asked that researchers and experts assist Correctional Services and called on the authorities to test at least one person per cell.
8 August. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) expressed concern about the living conditions in Brazilian prisons. The CIDH reported a high rate of contagion in detention, as well as an increase in deaths due to COVID-19. It argued that the state is not able to guarantee the physical integrity of inmates and access to health care under the current detention conditions. The CIDH called on the government of Brazil to adopt measures to reduce prison overcrowding, most notably the implementation of non-custodial measures.
2 July. The CNJ released new guidelines regarding the treatment of inmates during the health crisis. The guidelines were “citizenship policies” which must be guaranteed by law to people who are incarcerated, such as education, culture, employment, health care access, as well as religious, material and legal assistance. The Council also emphasised the importance of participating in civil society and of prison monitoring.
1 July. The president of HRC visited the Papuda prison and reported unsanitary conditions and overcrowded cells. He was not allowed to use a camera. He was concerned about another wave of the virus in this prison and denounced its precarious access to health care.
21 May. The CNJ published guidelines for inspection visits by judicial authorities regarding the selection of prisons, their frequency and the procedures to follow. The CNJ pointed out that these visits should be regarded as “ongoing and permanent activities in order to ensure the guarantee and preservation of lives”. The document was produced in partnership with the UNDP.
23 June. Over 200 national bodies spoke out to the UNO and OAS about how it was dealt with the COVID-19 crisis in the country’s prisons. The document presented data and evidence of violations of standards and international recommendations in six main areas: access to care, sentence adjustments, communication, registration of deaths, riots and the use of inadequate temporary accommodation facilities. The joint appeal showed that the COVID-19 outbreak had deepened the problems that existed in an already weakened prison system.
18 June. In São Paulo, the families and relatives of prisoners published an open letter to the authorities. In it, they criticised the violations of prisoners’ rights and highlighted the failures observed in sending and receiving parcels. At that time, items had to be posted, which wasn’t a viable option owing to the high cost involved. The prisoners relied on the parcels sent by their relatives for food and toiletries.
12 June. The National Justice Council (CNJ) extended by 90 days the application of its recommendations published in March in favour of releasing and alternative sentences to prison (Recommendation No. 62).
28 April. More than 70 civil society organisations denounced the proposal to set up containers for the isolation of uninfected, vulnerable prisoners to the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The proposal, formulated by the prison authorities, had been submitted to the National Council on Criminal and Penal Matters (CNPCP) for approval. The civil society organisations that had signed stated that the facilities were not adequately ventilated, exposed prisoners to high temperatures and violated the principle of human dignity, subjecting persons deprived of freedom to degrading treatment.
24 March. The national association of public defenders (Anadef) demand the authorities to place under house arrest or to provide alternative sentences for the vulnerable or imprisoned for minor felonies. The association recalls the need to guarantee the distribution of hydroalcoholic gel, soaps and other sanitary equipment to the detainees and staff.
18 March. The government recommends the use of curtains and ground marks to define a two-meter minimum distance in communal cells. This measure must be taken when the establishment is unable to isolate people who are sick or have symptoms of Covid-19. The government is proposing general guidelines to institutional leaders, this includes, the separation of prisoners over the age of 60 and those suffering from a chronic illness, increasing their walking time, restricting visits, and creating spaces for people with symptoms.
17 March. The National Justice Council (CNJ) published recommendations to judicial authorities to reduce the prison population. It recommends the following:
-house arrest for people held for nonpayment of alimony
-implementation of non-institutional socio-educational measures for minors
-reassessment of remand decisions regarding minors, pregnant women, prisoners in overpopulated establishments, and people accused of nonviolent offenses.
CNJ also recommends carrying out videoconferencing hearings when the defendant is in detention, or the hearing adjournment when he or she is released.
23 December. by the end of the year, 54,807 people had tested positive (41,971 prisoners and 12,836 staff members), an increase of 10.2 % over the previous month. At least 222 people died from Covid-19: 129 prisoners and 93 staff members.
16 December. The number of COVID-19 positive inmates increased in the state of Goiás: 214 new cases were recorded between November and December.
9 December. The virus continued to spread through the country’s prisons. The number of infected prisoners has increased by 10.5% in one month. Since the beginning of the crisis, 40,479 have tested positive. At least 126 inmates have died as a result of COVID-19.
13 November. In the state of Piauí, the number of prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19 increased by 52% between September and November. At this time, there have been 735 positive prisoners.
4 November. The number of positive inmates increased to 35, 560. At least 119 inmates died from COVID-19. The positive cases were found mainly in prisons of the North-East (30.8 %) and South-East (29.9 %) regions.
19 October. The number of inmates and staff members testing positive increased by 22.9% compared to the previous month: 33,668 inmates and 10,882 staff have been infected up to now. A total of 203 deaths were reported (117 inmates and 86 staff).
14 October. In the state of São Paulo, the authorities announced the death of 30 prisoners and 31 prison staff members. About 11% of that state’s prison population has been tested.
26 September. An outbreak of COVID-19 was identified at Pato Branco prison (Paraná). All 257 prisoners at this facility were tested and 41 were positive. The entries and exits for prisoners have been prohibited for the next 15 days. Exceptions are made for seeking exterior medical care.
30 September. The number of prisoners that have tested positive is currently 28 233, with 111 deaths. The CNJ counts 9 788 positive cases among prison staff, with 84 deaths.
18 September. In the State of Espírito Santo, one in three inmates has tested positive for COVID-19. Approximately 22,000 people are currently detained in the state.
9 September. The number of Covid-19 positive inmates increased to 21, 949, and 106 have died. More than 8,500 staff members contracted the virus, and 78 have died.
7 August. In São Paulo, 259 inmates and 31 staff members tested positive at Hortolândia prison. The cases were revealed following a mass screening of 1,570 inmates. This facility houses more than 1,700 inmates and employs 97 staff members.
6 August. In the state of Paraná, there are currently 471 inmates that have tested positive for COVID-19. One hundred and sixty-four staff members have also tested positive, and there has been one death. The prison administration director asserted that “the evolution of positive cases in the general population is not proportionate to that in prisons” and stated that “the figures are not alarming.”
5 August. The number of people who tested positive in the prison system was 19,683, including 150 deaths: 13,305 prisoners (82 deaths) and 6,378 staff members (68 deaths). This number represented an increase of 82.3% from the previous month. To this date, 3.5% of the prison population and 18.5% of prison staff had been screened.
3 August. In Paraíba, 20% of the prison population at the Prison Psychiatric Hospital tested positive.
30 July. The number of inmates testing positive increased to 11 386, including 73 deaths. Most of the cases were located in the South-East and North-East regions.
21 July. At Goiás prison, the number of inmates that had tested positive rose to 365 of every 1 000 tests carried out.
17 July. At Rio Grande du Sul, 233 inmates tested positive at Charqueadas prison. Two inmates of the prison died of the virus.
12 July. InSanta Catarina, 229 inmates at the prison of Itajaí tested positive.
1 July. In the Federal District, the number of inmates testing positive rose to 1,348.
30 June. In an Acre facility, 31 prisoners and more than 230 staff members tested positive.
22 June. The number of positive cases among prisoners and prison staff increased by 241% in one month. 4 256 prisoners tested positive and 58 died from the virus. Most of the cases identified were from the Central-western (29.5%), South-east (28.8%) and North-east (23.3%) regions of the country.
Prison staff were especially affected by the virus, with 3 526 individuals testing positive. The death toll reached 48.
16 June. In Paraná, at least 35 prisoners infected with COVID-19 were transferred to the Campo Mourão prison. It was not officially open.
14 June. In Paraná, 142 prisoners in the Toledo prison tested positive, amounting to 77% of individuals tested. The prisoners were placed in quarantine and all new admissions to the prison were suspended. The chief of the prison hospital of Paraná carried out an inspection visit to the Toledo prison to assess the health condition of prisoners and their prison conditions. He declared that the sick prisoners manifested minor and stable symptoms. At the time, none of them required a follow-up in hospital. The prison administration asserted that prisoners were examined daily and that the premises were disinfected three times a day.
12 June. The number of detained people who tested positive rose by 800% between 1 May (245) and 12 June (2,212). Fifty-three detainees died. A sharp rise was also observed among prison staff: 327 positive cases in May versus 2 944 at the time of writing. The number of deaths among staff stood at 41.
27 May. At least 671 prisoners tested positive and one death was reported in the Papuda prison, in Brasília.
19 May. In Sao Paulo, one in three prison facilities had positive cases among those detained.
In Pernambuco, the number of confirmed cases among inmates and guards increased from 20 to 80 in four days.
18 May. The latest weekly statistics on deaths in Rio’s prisons showed that the number of people dying from respiratory illnesses had doubled compared to the same period in 2019. Public Defence Lawyers (Defensoria Pública) pointed out that these figures were further evidence of the under-reporting of the number of deaths caused by COVID-19.
11 May. At least 35% of prisons in the State of Sao Paulo (62 out of 176) registered suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates and staff. In total, 79 prisoners were placed in quarantine and 232 members of staff granted leave. 13 deaths were confirmed: seven prisoners and six members of staff.
8 May. 17 prisoners tested positive at Parintins prison in the State of Amazonas.
7 May. Four prisoners died in Rio as a result of COVID-19.
28 April. The number of positive cases in prison rose to 104. Four prisoners died, three in Sao Paulo and one in Rio de Janeiro.
22 April. Governors stated that screening tests were few and far between in their State’s prisons. Less than 0.1% of the country’s prison population had been tested. Tests had been provided in Brasília and, in a few days, 38 cases had been identified.
21 April. An inmate died in Sorocaba (State of São Paulo). The number of positive cases in prison stood then at 93. A total of 647 detainees were tested.
19 April. The number of prisoners who tested positive rose to 59. Most contaminated inmates (41) are imprisoned in the Federal District (Brasilia) prison. Over 140 other cases are suspected in the country’s prisons.
17 April. Authorities confirmed the first death of an inmate from the consequences of COVID-19. The man died on 15 April in the medical unit of the Complexo de Gericinó prison. He was carrying out a closed-regime sentence in the older-people wing of Instituto Penal Candido Mendes prison (Rio de Janeiro).
16 March. The authorities of the Milton Dias Moreira (Rio) prison reported on 16 March that four prisoners have been taken to the hospital with COVID-19 sub symptoms. The governor of the state of Rio asks for them to be reintegrated to the prison the next day. This prison facility is the most overcrowded in the State of Rio.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
19 December. Prisoners at the federal prisons made more than 820,000 masks between April and early December. Inmates employed by CORCAN (a prison agency) also produced gowns. CORCAN has been criticized for its failure to modernize, their “sexist” attitude and for paying inmates low wages.
15 December. The risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 is 13 times higher in prison than on the outside.
4 December. In Ontario, following the detection of three cases among staff, Grand Valley Institution for Women saw a change in confinement conditions. Only 15 minutes outside their cell is permitted. The prison administration advised that the purpose of these restrictive measures is to isolate the source of contamination.
16 November. At New Carlisle prison, the increase in the number of cases threw a harsh light on prison conditions: the institution is described as “one of the worst in Quebec.” Half of the establishment is set up as a dormitory, therefore physical distancing measures cannot be implemented. A member of the prison union reported: “It’s an old-fashioned, dilapidated institution with barred doors and several problems with ventilation, which I would say is practically non-existent.” A dozen or so guards were placed in preventive quarantine after four cases were discovered among officers. Staff from another institution replaced them.
12 November. “Locking people down” to prevent the spread of the virus “is affecting” the mental health of inmates, according to the Elizabeth Fry Society. It added that public health officials who know little about prison environments use very restrictive measures that don’t equate to care.
23 October. Prisoners at Trois-Rivières prison circulate between the different wings without restriction. A prisoner testifies: “it is the prisoners who do the dishes and they move from one sector to another. Isolation is not entirely everywhere”. Prisoners share showers and toilets daily as well.
3 August. Quebec implemented a release plan in provincial penitentiaries. The wearing of masks, which was mandatory for staff, was the choice of inmates when they were in the common areas. Prison officers’ unions denounced what they considered to be “gross negligence”.
21 July. The risk of contracting COVID-19 was much higher in prison than outside. The probability was nine times higher in federal prisons and five times higher in provincial prisons.
17 July. In Alberta, prisoners complained that they did not have access to masks and hygiene products. They reported that prison staff did not wear masks and did not respect physical distancing measures.
19 June. Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator, encouraged the prison administration to relax the existing restrictions which were at the root of tensions. He pointed out that prisoners were being held in solitary confinement for a prolonged period and that workshops, religious services and programmes were suspended, including in facilities which had not seen any positive case.
17 June. Inmate from Mission Institution (British Columbia) described the precautions taken in the prison. He pointed out, for example, that the staff were slow to put physical-distancing measures in place. Once the facility was under quarantine, conditions deteriorated rapidly: two meals irregularly served per day, no shower, no phone calls. Staff were told not to wear their personal protective equipment as not to scare the prisoners.
15 June. In Ontario, inmates at the Lindsay prison exposed their prison conditions, which they believed to be worse than in other institutions and were deteriorating during the pandemic. They reported declining food quality and a lack of access to drinking water, contact with loved ones and activities. Hygiene products were in short supply and there was little ventilation. Some specific diets were not guaranteed. Cells were reportedly closed earlier than in other establishments.
24 May. In an open letter, the prisoners of Area C in Bordeaux prison explained that there was still no infirmary or library and that visits were still suspended. They had not been able to clean their cells for two months.
6 May. A lawyer in penal law detailed: “our clients are in solitary confinement 23 h 30 on 24 (…). That means they have 30 minutes a day to access the phone and take a shower. Every three days, they have an additional 30 minutes to go to the courtyard. “
3 May. One of the directors of a prison staff union denounced the lack of tests and the authorities’ lack of responsiveness to the crisis. It seemed that only 44 tests had been carried out in Bordeaux prison for a prison population of 960.
15 April. Prison staff explained their work conditions had to “go beyond” national guidelines in order to “reassure their teams and prevent some from “depositing the keys””. Dozens of detainees were taken to the promenade despite recommendations. Their number varied between 50 and 80, depending on the facilities. The personnel castigated “a blatant ignorance of the terrain on the part of the national level”.
7 April. A union of prison guards voiced their concerns about the officers’ working conditions. They mentioned “overwork, understaffing and enormous pressure”.
30 March. The prison of Port-Cartier set up a certain number of measures: people who have been in contact with carriers of the virus were informed; all surfaces were disinfected; the wearing of masks was to be introduced; the personnel temperature was also to be noted.
29 March. Prime Minister declared that a plan will be announced by the Minister of Health in the following days.
27 March. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that detained people were more likely to contract and participate in the spread of the virus. No action was announced.
22 March. The prison administration announced the interruption of the launch of a syringe exchange programme, proposed in nine of the country’s 49 federal prisons.
25 April. The restrictions imposed on detained persons made the conditions of detention “Extremely difficult” and “clearly violate[d] fundamental rights”, according to a report by the prison controller. Detainees have no time for daytime walks. Only a 20-minute trip was allowed to take a shower or to make a phone call.
4 December. The number of females detained in the federal system decreased by 9.8% between March and November. Correctional Services Canada said they are working with the Parole Board to identify inmates eligible for sentence adjustments.
29 June. In Alberta, the prison population decreased by 35% since the start of the pandemic. More than 1,200 prisoners were released. A calculation made by Vice Media concluded a decrease of 15% at the national level.
8 June. The government of the province of Quebec had not showed any desire to proceed with conditional releases. The interruption of training could, in part, explain it. Training programmes were sometimes needed to justify the granting of conditional release. Other prisoners were no longer certain they would be hired when they got out, a guarantee that was considered important. Other provinces had gone ahead with the release of 25% to 55% of their prison population.
20 April The number of beds available in day parole centers (halfway houses) decreased by 20% due to recent sanitary measures. The staff working there were under “immense pressure” with “little or no” protective equipment.
7 April.. Early release options were described as “extremely limited” due to the uncertainty that weighs on the living conditions of potentially releasable people. The number of officers able to conduct risk assessments prior to release was reported to be insufficient.
Contact with the outside world
17 November. At Trois-Rivières prison, visits by videoconference have been suspended for a month. The situation has been denounced by inmates and their relatives. The Ministry of Public Security indicated that there are not enough staff and says that there are “security, operational and technological constraints” to justify the suspension.
23 October. Video conferences have been suspended at Trois-Rivières prison. A prisoner indicates that only calls are allowed: “I have been here for a while and I have no more contact with my family because they took away our right to videoconferences. I have two children and I can only make calls here.”
27 September. In Quebec, visits to federal prisons have been suspended. The decision will be reviewed on a weekly basis in light of recent health developments. No action has been taken with respect to provincial prisons.
16 July. Visits were permitted again in federal prisons after a four month ban. People must register their visits 48 hours in advance. The number of people permitted to visit would be limited. Their temperature must be taken upon arrival. Masks would be mandatory and they must maintain physical distancing.
4 June. In Ottawa, chaplains were no longer allowed to visit prisoners. They considered that the spiritual needs of federal inmates were not being met. They were seldom replaced by virtual visits, deemed insufficient, and some prisoners were unaware of such a possibility.
2 June. There were allegedly too few video visitation terminals at Millhaven prison. The suspension of visits had led all relatives to opt for remote visits. Only one computer was reserved for them. The number of requests led to a twoweek waiting period.
18 March. Most visits are suspended in Ontario until further notice. No cases are reported in Canadian prison facilities.
Acts of protest
25 October. Prisoners at Hull prison protested against the general prison lockdown which was decided by the regional public health. They set toilet paper on fire and bang loudly on the bars “the noise was punctuated by screams and door banging”.
15 June. In Ontario, some 100 inmates at the Lindsay prison announced going on a hunger strike. They were protesting their prison conditions. Last year, 770 complaints were made to the Ombudsman about these conditions, which were reported to have further deteriorated during the pandemic.
6 May. A hunger strike began in Bordeaux prison. The authorities indicated that there was no “mass movement” for the moment. This announcement was contradicted by a prisoner who described his conditions of detention: “It will blow up, if it continues like that! (…) Inmates who are yelling. Others who send the guards for a walk. The [neighborhood] is disgusting. The guys throw water and garbage. There are some who lose their heads completely.”
3 May. Prisoners held in Bordeaux prison allegedly threatened prison officials with initiating riots. They suspected prison officers of contributing to spreading the coronavirus in prison. Several sources confirmed that the situation was tense.
Appeals and recommendations
15 December. Maclean’s magazine wrote an editorial requesting that the reforms introduced to fight the pandemic continue into the long term. Among these are: putting an end to short prison sentences, relocating prisons to the heart of communities and doing away with geographically distant establishments, and supporting the reintegration of those leaving prison. They concluded: “with all the damage that has occurred. Covid-19 offers a new look at what is possible if we wanted to keep people out of prisons rather than keeping them in there.”
17 August Melissa Munn, professor at the Okanagan College, called for the revival of the prison press. “During this time of the COVID-19 crisis and police violence influencing public opinion, prison press is one of the only mechanisms which allow inmates to express themselves and write about their experience.”
21 July. A member of the Vancouver Prison Justice Day Committee reported being alarmed at detention conditions and the danger they posed to the health of those detained. He advocated for medical release measures.
17 July. The Alberta Prison Justice Society (APJS), an organisation of lawyers, addressed a letter to the health authorities and the Minister of Justice of Alberta expressing their concerns. They reported repeated violations of the health protocol by the officers. They called for unannounced monitoring visits and publication of the results.
8 June. An anti-carceral group called upon the government of Quebec to release more prisoners. It stated that prison conditions did not make it possible to ensure their safety.
2 June. The relative of a prisoner at Millhavenprison, Ontario, requested that prison authorities extend video visitation slots and acquire a second computer to ensure the maintenance of ties in the event the single terminal broke down.
24 May. The prisoners in Area C of Bordeaux prison wrote an open letter to the authorities of Quebec. They described the conditions of their imprisonment as “deplorable”. They said they were confined to their cells 22 hours a day and went for a walk in a basement that was hardly the size of that of a house in groups of 20. They shared their fear of dying in prison.
13 April. A union official representative of penitentiary agents requested the decrease in staff movements between establishments and within them, “as it is already the case elsewhere”. They also requested the provision of masks for prisoners.
30 March. Canada’s Minister for Public Safety Bill Blair invited prison administrations and various liberation commissions to facilitate the release of certain prisoners.
The Director of the John Howard Society of Canada identified three categories of inmates to be released on a priority basis: those who were presented as “low risk” to society and who had already received a sentence adjustment, those who were capable of being welcomed into their families and monitored electronically, and the most vulnerable prisoners.
The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (CACS) opposed to this proposal and invoked “the complete lack of respect for public safety”.
Lawyers were concerned about the solitary confinement of detainees. They indicated that it was “not viable in the long term” and that it caused “serious long-term psychological effects”.
29 March. The Federal Prisons Ombudsman, Ivan Zinger, advised the government to release the prisoners that present no risk to the community.
27 March. A senator called for the release of prisoners, citing the “dangerous environment” they were in.
26 March. All programs were suspended. A lawyer explained: “My clients deplore being completely isolated. Their only remaining contact with loved ones is by phone. All programs, including outings with or without supervision, have been suspended.”
The AADCQ (Quebec Association of lawyers for prison law) called for the immediate release of prisoners being held for non-violent crimes, those serving a sentence of less than six months, pregnant women, inmates over 70 and those suffering from chronic illness.
14 December. In Saskatchewan, the main federal prison reported 24 positive cases among inmates who were placed in quarantine to prevent the virus from spreading.
9 December. In Québec, 12 of 25 inmates in Percé prison have tested positive for COVID-19. A prison union leader said that 30% of staff are unable to come to work due to isolation measures.
In Gaspésie, the outbreak recorded in New Carlisle prison is said to have run its course according to public health officials.
4 December. In Ontario, Grand Valley Institution for Women had three positive cases among staff. The eight prisoners who tested positive at the beginning of the pandemic have recovered.
16 November. At New Carlisle (Quebec) prison, 23 inmates and four guards have been found to be carriers of COVID-19. This increase in the number of cases is described as a “major outbreak”: nearly 50% of the people detained in the establishment tested positive.
12 November. Three federal prisons recorded five positive cases: two in Drummondville (Québec), two in the Edmonton Institution for Women, and one in Stony Mountain (Manitoba). All those infected were medically isolated and monitored.
25 October. Hull prison counted three officers and six positive prisoners.
23 October. Trois-Rivières prison had 10 officers and 13 prisoners testing positive. Cases have not been on the rise over the past week. Large-scale screening is reportedly underway.
13 October. In the province of Manitoba, seven inmates and two staff members tested positive at Headingley prison. Nearly 150 people associated with the facility were instructed to stay home.
17 July. Provincial prisons in Alberta reported that there were eight cases of COVID-19 among inmates.
29 June. The total number of cases in prison was reported as 576. Most were believed to be prisoners within the federal penitentiary system. In Alberta, provincial prisons counted two cases of COVID-19. This state was relatively untouched, which could be explained by the fact that prisons were 60% occupied on average.
19 June. Only one “active” case among prisoners in federal corrections facilities was reported. Just under 3% of the inmate population was affected during the epidemic, with 360 cases detected in five facilities.
9 June. The authorities indicated that all the prisoners who had been sick from COVID-19 in federal prisons were in remission. Two deaths were reported, and one case was “still active”.
21 May. A 72-year-old prisoner died at Bordeaux prison. It was the first death in a provincial prison. Relatives considered that he had not received adequate treatment. Geneviève Guilbault, Deputy Premier of Quebec and Minister of Public Security, said otherwise.
6 May. An inmate died in a federal prison in Quebec. A prisoner from the same establishment testified: “In my wing, we all have it, except one guy. There are four in the hospital and there is a rumor that a prisoner is dead, but we have no confirmation. It was to be expected”.
13 April. The prison Mission Institution counted 41 detainees and six agents currently carrying COVID-19. Eight inmates were hospitalized.
11 April. Over 100 detainees and staff from federal institutions tested positive. The prison administration reported that 61 prisoners and 56 agents were carrying the COVID-19 in six different facilities. A British Columbia (Mission Institution) prison counted many cases: 25 inmates and 4 officers. It was placed in quarantine and about fifteen tests were in progress. In Quebec, the Joliette women’s prison counted 33 officers and 16 inmates had been contaminated. It was the facility with the most personnel carrying COVID-19 in the country.
31 March. Two prisoners tested positive in a maximum security prison in Quebec. They were isolated from the rest of the prisoners. Nine officers also tested positive at Port-Quartier prison. They were asked to stay at home and follow the instructions of the health authorities.
30 March. The prison administration published regularly the cases of prisoners who tested positive among the federal institutions. Three cases were reported: two in the province of Quebec, one in Ontario.
30 March. Coronavirus cases were reported among penitentiary personnel. The administration reported no inmates testing positive. In court, convicted individuals contested their incarceration due to the risks involved, and asked to be released on bail. These requests are beginning to be granted.
Two inmates were tested in Alberta. A dozen inmates in Bowden tested negative during the previous month.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
3 October. Correctional officers transferred 40 inmates from twoSantiago facilities to the El Manzano prison (Biobío). Officials confirmed that the transferred inmates adhered to the following health protection protocol: quarantine in Santiago, PCR testing, and 14 days in individual cells. The Leasur NGO criticised the action. It pointed out that using transfers to address prison overcrowding in the capital was not “optimal” for the health and safety of inmates and was harmful to maintaining family ties.
12 September. The National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) of Los Ríos visited Valdivia prison. It reported a lack of electricity and water, as well as issues of mold and flooding. The prison is managed by an outside agency called Compass. Following the visit, NIHR reported the conditions to the judge responsible for procedural safeguards. He ordered that necessary health measures be implemented within the next ten days. The judge indicated that the detention conditions violated the standards necessary for respecting the life and well-being of inmates.
19 August. Inmates at Valparaíso prison reported that there are no health protocols in the facilities. They criticized the overcrowding, lack of access to drinkable water, food and other basic items. Some COVID-19 positive inmates cohabit with new arrivals.
17 July. Prison overcrowding coupled with the spread of the pandemic saturated the two isolation and quarantine units of Valparaíso prison.
10 July. Authorities at Punta Arenas prison isolated all of module A1 following confirmation of a case among officials.
28 June. The arrival of 79 transfers at Rancagua prison from Santiago caused an increase in cases, according to a professional organisation of gendarmes. Authorities reported that infected people were being kept in a dedicated unit that is isolated from the rest of the prison population. The head of the facility put a quarantine system in place for the whole prison, with walks being forbidden and inmates having to remain in the dormitories.
2 June. The human rights department from the College of Physicians was concerned about the consequences of the pandemic in prisons. It claimed that “the virus had created an unmanageable health situation that threatens the existing public health issue”. Since 1 April, the Order of Physicians visited five prisons: Puente Alto, Valparaíso, La Serena, Santiago Sur and Valdivia. They stated that they had begun discussions with the Gendarmerie and the Ministry of Justice. They mentioned that the help they had asked from the Ministry of Health had not been answered.
1 April. Director of the National Institute for Human Rights, Sergio Micco, spoke out on human rights abuses in prisons: “We have moved forward, but we are light years away from what human dignity demands”. He stated that “when we speak of a social distance of one meter, this is a very cruel joke”, in a context where 20m² dormitories house 60 detainees.
16 October. The gendarmerie announced that people pardoned under the law of Indulto Conmutativo (the article 11 of law number 21.228), in the context of the pandemic, are required to return to prison. Those who are granted a conditional release are excluded from this obligation.
5 June. Judicial authorities reported that a third of the prison population had been released between 18 March and 31 May (13 321 people). Among those released, about 5 000 had been in pre-trial detention.
16 March. The government announced a bill to promote house arrest for the elderly people being incarcerated for “minor” offenses. He arranged a working group to propose preventive measures.
Contact with the outside world
30 December. officials reduced from five to two days bi-weekly for the delivery of parcels for inmates at Colina I prison. Families reported that this decision is causing long waiting lines in the heat without access to toilets.
24 December. The national plan for resuming visits, implemented in December, does not include children under age 14. This means that about 67 % of female inmates will not be able to see their children, according to the Red de Acción Carcelaria association. The Leasur NGO is concerned about this decision: “unfortunately, the seriousness of the situation, such as losing the close bond between a mother and child, could be irreversible.”
28 November. Family members of prisoners in Colina II sent a letter to the general director of the prison service. They requested the resumption of visits in “appropriate and realistic conditions, in keeping with each institution”.
2 November. Leasur NGO published a report on the use of cell phones in prisons. It reported that, between April and August, 2,120 cell phones and 249 computers were allowed to be used in prisons for video calls.
4 July. Leasur NGO launched a “Humanitarian Telephones” campaign to inform people and to show how important it is to maintain communication links between prisoners and their families. This was following the installation of alternative visiting systems which included the use of cell phones, video calls, and land lines.
1 June. The head of Mulchén described the communication procedures for detainees and their relatives since the beginning of the pandemic: “For visits, we have two options: video calls, for which we have a computer in the visiting area, where a staff member is in charge, and access to a mobile phone in the same area so they can speak to their loved ones when needed. Everything has been recorded in a registered.” He added that the detainees replied positively to these “extraordinary” measures. The Yumbel and Mulchen prisons were the only prisons in the country with an internet connection dedicated exclusively to remote viewing.
Acts of protest
5 July. Inmates from Rancagua to O’Higgins prisons denounced poor sanitary conditions. In a video, they denounced the deplorable sanitary conditions and lack of respect for their fundamental rights. The National President of the Gendarmerie Association responded that the prison staff were not at fault because prisoners were responsible for maintaining cleanliness.
28 June. Inmates in Rancagua prison protested following the confirmation of 12 new cases of COVID-19 in the facility. They accused the prison authorities of having authorised transfers, suspected of being the source of the new infections.
19 March. Inmates attemped to escape from Santiago 1 prison, for fear of being contaminated. Police forces and intelligence agencies thwarted the attempt, resulting in a riot by about 200 frustrated inmates during which mattresses were burned. A large number of inmate families and loved ones gathered in front of the establishment to denounce the poor sanitary conditions inside. Around 4 000 people are held at Santiago 1, the country’s largest prison.
Appeals and recommendations
24 October. At the request of inmates , the NGO Leasur published, recommendations regarding the resumption of visits to Colina II prison. The document was prepared by Leasur’s “health and prison” team and is based on advice from various professionals. Leasur met with the director of Colina II to present the document and to discuss the next steps in resuming visits. The recommendations were also presented to the Ministry of Health and the Gendarmerie.
17 July. Christian Democrat MPs expressed their concern about the spread of the pandemic in the prison centres of Aysén and Valparaíso regions. They demanded that the Ministries of Justice and Health urgently adopt measures to curb contamination. They denounced promiscuity and wanted the sick to be transferred to health care facilities.
16 June. The NGO LEASUR and several civil society organizations addressed a letter to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and to the Gendarmerie to denounce the negligence and risks faced by inmates in the country’s prisons. They opposed the authorities’ decision to carry out transfers between facilities and between regions. They highlighted the significant increase in cases among prisoners and members of the police. The signatories demanded more transparency, particularly around the reasons behind these transfers.
15 April. Prisoners at the Colina I prison submitted a letter to the country’s authorities. They demanded several measures to reduce overcrowding, including: • the release of persons in custody, guaranteeing the presumption of innocence • the parole for anyone meeting the prerequisites • the investigation of additional solutions to release persons with disabilities, those suffering from chronic illnesses and prisoners exhibiting “irreproachable behaviors”.
1 April. Amnesty International demanded the authorities to expedite the operative measures to reduce prison overcrowding. The NGO reiterated its request to release “all the prisoners for exercising their right to peaceful assembly, as well as to an immediate review of all the preventive detention measures currently in force”. The director of Amnesty International Chile criticized the policy of criminalizing social demonstrations, which had been reinforced since October 2019 and responsible for the imprisonment of hundreds of people for minor offenses. The organization recommended that the authorities consider the conditional release of all people at risk. It called for the allocation of resources to guarantee the sanitation of establishments and access to water, hygiene products, and care.
10 December. The number of COVID-19 positive inmates increased to 2,008. 17 have died as a result of COVID-19.
18 November. The number of positive cases in the prison system increased to 3,500: 1,912 prisoners and 1,588 staff. Nineteen people died of COVID-19 (17 inmates and two staff).
28 October. The number of prisoners who tested positive for COVID-19 increased to 1,853. The number of Infected staff members is 1,512, while eighteen people died: 16 prisoners and two officers.
29 August. The Mapuche community denounced an outbreak of cases at Lebu prison. Several political prisoners there have begun a hunger strike. The community has criticised the authorities for silencing and minimising the symptoms reported by prisoners. The prison currently has at least three cases of sick prisoners.
26 August. Throughout the country’s prisons there were 2,942 people with the COVID-19 virus and 14 deaths among inmates and staff.
24 July. The number of positive inmates rose to 1 234, including 11 deaths. Prison staff was also affected by the spread of the virus: 1 103 tested positive and two died.
21 July. Prison chaplain Nelly León reported that close to half of the female inmates in the Catholic section (patio catolico) of the San Joaquín prison for women tested positive. The inmates in the so-called Catholic quarters have increased access to religious activities and better infrastructure. León had been quarantined with the inmates since March.
17 July. Authorities confirmed the presence of eight new cases in Aysén prison.
16 July. Prison authorities reportedat least 80 inmates and 41 staff members infected with the virus in Valparaíso prison. One person out of ten has been tested. The Observatoire social pénitentiaire (Prison Social Observatory) accused the authorities of not being transparent about the health situation.
6 July. The regional headquarters of the O’Higgins gendarmerie confirmed 44 new positive cases in La Gonzalina prison in Rancagua. After the first cases appeared in the prison, 210 prisoners were tested: 166 were negative, 43 positive. The test results were not conclusive. Prisoners who tested positive were placed in quarantine and would receive daily visits from health personnel.
4 July. Health authorities confirmed the spread of COVID-19 in Tocopilla prison, affecting prisoners and prison staff. Of the 42 inmates, 27 tested positive. Positive cases were isolated and quarantined.
17 June. The police reported that 572 prisoners and 769 members of staff had tested positive.
3 June. The police confirmed the first death of a prisoner from COVID-19.
27 April. The authorities reported that 162 prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19. Moreover, 164 prison staff members had also tested positive.
13 April. The gendarmerie reported that the number of staff members and inmates contaminated raised to 83 (24 inmates and 59 staff members), which was twice as much as the previous week.
For more information, see the newsfeed (in Spanish) from the LEASUR NGO dedicated to COVID 19
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
10 October. Prison officials reported that the occupation rate went from 152% to 123% since the April decree on sentence reductions. The head prison official said that reducing overcrowding has allowed them to “make sentencing more human”. Some facilities still have a troubling occupation rate, such as the Riohacha prison, where the number of inmates is twice the number of places available.
Officials reported that almost 34,000 individuals (inmates and guards) were tested up to now.
23 July. The strategy put in place by the Cali Public Health Secretariat at Villahermosa prison proved that the pandemic was declining there as a result of health measures taken (screening, identification of vulnerable persons, isolation of symptomatic persons). Hand washing stations were set up and hydro-alcoholic gel was distributed.
10 July. The prison administration reported that 10,675 inmates were tested (281 women and 10,394 men) and 3,231 staff members (2,624 women and 607 men). Sanitising protocols were carried out in 132 prisons across the country.
2 June. The occupancy rate dropped 12% between 30 March (151 %) and 2 June (139 %). The significant decrease was attributed to the measures adopted to combat the pandemic.
16 May. The judicial authorities ordered the transfer of 57 inmates of Villavicencio prison. The recipients of the transfer order suffered from chronic diseases and were at acute risk of contracting COVID-19, given the high number of cases identified in the institution. More than a third of the prison population in Villavicencio tested positive.
13 May. The El Tiempo newspaper released a video of a cell crowded with prisoners who were trying to self-isolate and to avoid leaving. The cells are between 9 m2 and 36 m2 and can contain from 8 to 14 people. The prisoners were given masks and a few items by way of donations.
12 May. The head of Villavicencio denounced, during a virtual session of the Departmental Assembly, the abandonment on the part of national and local authorities. He claimed that the institution could not afford to isolate all detainees who tested positive. He reported that 134 elderly people who tested negative were grouped together and isolated in a furnished room, which was “not ideal”. The head of the establishment said that certain staff members paid for the prisoners’ medicine. He added that doctors and nurses did not want to work in prisons because the authorities did not provide them with the necessary protective equipment. The Ministry of Justice installed a tent for medical use in Villavicencio prison with a capacity of 20 patients, while 867 people (prisoners and guards) had tested positive.
1 May. At least 421 cases of COVID-19 (prisoners and staff) had been identified in the prison. The prison authorities decided to send a medical team to Villavicencio prison. It was tasked with ensuring the observance of the isolation protocol and recruiting health professionals to examine the prisoners. The decision was taken following the escape attempt that had occurred there.
24 April. The enforcement judge for sentences in Santander ruled that prison authorities had to allocate within 48 hours the budget resources necessary to improve sanitary conditions in six prisons. The judge stated that the measures taken in the prisons of Santander “were not sufficient to avoid contagion”. The ruling also ordered the requisition of equipment (masks, gloves, disinfectant, soap, etc.) for the duration of the health crisis.
15 April. The prison staff from Villavivencio published on social networks a video denouncing the “absolute negligence “ of the authorities. They claim that the organism responsible for administering the resources for penal establishments (Uspec) does not guarantee essential services, such as those to improve inmate care. According to the staff, the prison has a head nurse and an auxiliary nurse during the day, while there are 1,780 detainees there. They claim that Uspec has no emergency plan to deal with the crisis.
11 April. The prison facilities of Bogotá, Picaleña, Jamundí and Armenia installed disinfection chambers activated by a motion sensor. This device releases a component of alcohol, water and Benzaldina. They were made by staff and inmates. The prison administration wanted each facility to be able to install a similar device.
23 December. The occupancy rate has decreased by almost 20% since the onset of the pandemic, as a result of presidential decree Number 546, published in April, which facilitates house arrest.
18 November. A total of 1,151 prisoners were released, thanks to an order declared on 14 April. The Ministry of Justice provided for the release of approximately 5,000 people. Since April, more than 19,000 people have been released through regular sentence adjustment mechanisms.
10 October. More than 23,000 inmates have been released since the April decree. These include inmates over age 60, pregnant women, chronically or terminally ill inmates, people with disabilities and people with five-year sentences who have already served 40% of their time.
15 April. The president signed a decree granting house arrest for approximately 4 000 inmates at risk. This measure was announced a few hours after the confirmation of several cases of COVID-19 at Villavivencio. The measure was to be valid for six months and could be extended accordingly to the advice from health authorities. They excluded anyone convicted of a crime against humanity, a war crime, a crime against children or youth, as well as those convicted of corruption.
31 March. The Minister of Justice decided that 10 850 prisoners will be able to serve their sentence in transition homes until the end of the penitentiary emergency state. The decision will benefit elderly prisoners, breastfeeding women, very sick prisoners, and those sentenced to at least five years of prison with 3/5 served. Experts in criminal policy are criticizing the insufficiency of this measure in terms of prison overpopulation (151.2% on February 2020).
Contact with the outside world
22 December. Visits to Berlín prison in Socorro (Santander), were suspended following the confirmation of several positive cases.
18 November. The prison administration ordered the resumption of temporary absences. It stated that visits from family members and lawyers would soon resume.
10 October. Visits remain suspended. A number of facilities set up separate areas for online visits. Prison officials reported that more than 25,000 visits and more than 62,000 hearings were held online since the onset of the pandemic. A possible pilot project to resume visits in military prisons is being looked at.
1 October. Permissions for 72-hour leaves were handed out gradually and in turn. Outings will follow health guidelines (self-isolation and testing upon returning to prison, etc.). This measure will benefit, in theory, 469 inmates in 132 prisons.
27 July. Video conferencing rooms were set up in 132 prisons around the country, namely in Cali, Bucaramanga, Medellín and Bogotá. The head of Correctional Services stated that there have been over 88 000 video conference visits since the onset of the pandemic.
13 June. The families of individuals detained at the Bosque de Baranquilla prison informed the media of their concerns. According to them, the administration informed them that sick prisoners were quarantined in the chapel, classrooms or solitary confinement cells. They denounced the lack of communication with their loved ones and called on these institutions to ensure the fundamental rights of prisoners were respected.
12 March. President of the Republic Iván Duque announced that all visits would be suspended in the 133 prisons of the country. This decision aims to protect the prisoners. The majority Union for correctional staff asks for the state of emergency in prison to be declared. It declared that the prison systems present “severe shortcomings in matter of access to health care”. Facilities do not benefit from “appropriate infrastructure, neither sufficient human resources nor sufficient technical and technological capacities to curb the eventuality of the epidemic spread.
Acts of protests
24 November. After conducting an inquiry, Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded that Security Forces fired on demonstrators at La Modelo prison, on 21 March, intending to kill them. A protest movement held in March in that prison resulted in the death of 24 inmates and 76 wounded. “Autopsy reports indicate that the bullet wounds show they were not meant to simply wound, but to kill”, concluded independent experts in the HRW report. The director of HRW for the Americas called on the authorities to “guarantee that those responsible for using excessive and unjustified deadly force be held accountable for their actions”.
4 November. Inmates at Cómbita (Boyacá) maximum security prison went on a hunger strike. They were protesting the fact that guards were not following proper health protocols, as well as the administration’s inadequate pandemic health restrictions. Inmates asked officials for telephone credits, which had not been available since May. Inmate representative, Jesús Emilio Gallego, reported that on 30 October, 300 inmates (some of whom were COVID-19 positive) were placed in a 20m x 10m space without any ventilation.
8 July. Inmates of Armenia prison started a hunger strike. Approximately 50 prisoners were protesting, demanding the right to leave their cells after several days of restrictions. The management of the prison explained that these were protective measures essential to their survival after the discovery of a first positive case on 22 June. Nineteen prisoners still were in quarantine.
22 April. Families of inmates gathered in front of the prison La Picota to support the protest movement and request the early release (liberación humanitaria) of their loved ones.
21 April. Detainees from Cúcuta prison (north of Santander) demonstrated against “strong repression on the part of the prison administration”.
20 April. The National Prison Movement (Movimento Nacional Carceralio) announced one day protest in the La Picota prison. The movement was organized following the announcement of the arbitration of the intervention bodies of the prison administration, the CORES (Comando Operativo de Remisiones de Especial Seguridad) and the GRI (Grupo de Reacción Inmediata). Two inmates from this institution tested positive.
15 April. Prison inmates from Eron Picota announced a strike “until the government finds a solution to the health issue of the country’s prisons”.
7 April. New protest movements, coordinated at a national level, burst. Detainees demanded the improvement of sanitary conditions and the release of people at the end of their sentence. Some shared videos of the event. Others showed the promiscuity in the cells and testified how 170 are being incarcerated in spaces for 48 people. Seven supervisors and three prisoners from the Pasto prison were injured during the uprisings.
25 March. The National Prison Movement of Cúcuta Prison (MNC / COCUCC) denounces the use of firearms and tear gas by the prison’s administration facing a peaceful protest. This group of prisoners reports that 39 detainees were injured. They demand the following measures: the release of elderly detainees and those suffering from serious illnesses, the prisoner’s eligibility for parole regardless of their reason for incarceration and the reduction of all sentences imposed.
22 March. Many inmates rose up following a government announcement. Nine prisons were affected by the demonstration: Picaleña, Jamundí, Pedregal, Cúcuta, Picota, La Modelo, Cómbita, Palmira and Buen Pastor de Bogotá. Prisoners denounced the lack of preventive measures, declared a state of sanitary emergency and called for the adoption of measures tackling overpopulation. Authorities reported an attempted collective escape from the La Modelo prison, the most overpopulated in the country, during the uprising. Over 70 NGOs, including Equipo Jurídico Pueblos, denounced the exaggerated reaction of security forces: the lack of dialogue with inmates, the use of firearms and the excessive use of teargas. Twenty-three inmates died and 82 were injured.
Appeals and recommendations
31 December. Cómbita prison inmates, in Boyacá, were alarmed by the increased spread of the virus. They denounced the lack of food and adequate care for those infected.
22 July. The Sueños en Libertad Foundation denounced the deterioration of prison conditions. It expressed its concern about the lack of information available to inmates from the outside. The foundation organised a collection to provide hygiene products to prisoners in La Paz and El Pedregal. The Human Rights Defender of Medellín (Personería) called for preventive products to be made available to all prisoners in Medellín, where there were almost 200 infected prisoners. The trade union of the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (Inpec) confirmed that 25 prisons had positive cases. It denounced the inadequacy of isolation facilities, which they were insufficient to effectively combat the pandemic. Preventive measures and medical resources were also denounced as insufficient.
7 May. The Constitutional Court made a pronouncement on the situation of Villacicencio prison. The director of the prison and judges had three weeks to release eligible prisoners.
21 April. The association of detained people’s families “Libres e innocentes” denounced the actions of the country’s authorities. They claimed that “the Colombian state [was] acting negligently towards the pandemic in prisons” and that “it [was] acting illegitimately and accelerating the spread of the virus”. The association recalled that the reported releases remained “largely insufficient” to solve the problem of overcrowding.
23 December. So far this year, approximately 21,000 people have tested positive: 19,068 inmates and 1,477 staff members. At least 110 inmates have died from COVID-19 (104 men and 6 women).
22 December. A cluster was identified in Berlín prison, inSocorro (Santander). At least 22 inmates and five prison staff members tested positive. The head of the facility confirmed that all infected inmates were placed in quarantine in designated areas.
19 November. The coronavirus affected 11 times more prisoners than people at liberty. The contagion rate in society is one positive person per 1,000. In penal institutions, the rate is 11.3 persons per 1,000. Overcrowding in prisons is said to be the main explanation. The institutions most affected by the pandemic are La Picota in Bogotá (1,706 positive inmates), and La Picaleña in Ibagué (1,400). The institution for women with the most cases is El Buen Pastor in Bogotá (900). A total of 69 inmates have died of COVID-19.
17 November. The number of inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 was 17,757. The number of prison staff infected with the virus was 1,467. Most of them were guards (77.8%)
4 November. The Prosecutor General expressed concern over the lack of testing and the increasing risk of contagion in prisons. He said that 30% of inmates had been tested up to then.
3 November. Officials confirmed that there were 133 positive cases in Neiva prison. Two inmates died from COVID-19 and two others were hospitalised. Officials said that new clusters of the virus were identified in eight prisons.
30 September. The number of cases among inmates is currently 13 594. 918 guards tested positive.
5 August. Cúcuta prison announced 20 positive cases among its prisoners. One staff member died as a result of COVID-19.
30 July. At least 188 inmates and eight guards tested positive for COVID-19 at Picaleña prison in Tolima.
28 July. Santa Marta prison counted 86 positive cases. The majority of people were asymptomatic.
30 July. Eight people tested positive at the Cómbita prison, in Boyacá.
22 July. La Paz Prison in Itagüí reported having 371 positive cases, representing 49.6% of the total number of cases recorded in the municipality. Seven hundred and twenty-nine tests were carried out jointly by La María Hospital, responsible for prison health, and the municipal health service.
21 July. The management of the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (Inpec)estimated the number of infected persons in the country’s 132 prisons at 2 146 (1 923 prisoners, 161 guards, 13 civil servants and 49 auxiliaries).
19 July. The number of positive cases at the Jamundí prison rose to 46 (32 prisoners and 14 staff members). The infected inmates were placed in quarantine. At the Las Mercedes prison (Montería), 56 people tested positive (53 inmates and three staff members). The authorities ordered the closure of outdoor recreation areas and the performance of 600 tests.
18 July. Correctional Services reported that there were no more COVID-19 cases in Villavicencio prison. They stated, however, that protective measures were still in place.
17 July. The number of positive cases at the Valledupar prison was reported to be 58; 50 inmates and eight guards.
16 July. La Paz prison in Itagüí recorded its first death as a result of COVID-19.
14 July. The authorities confirmedthe first positive case in the Neiva prison. This was a guard. Fourteen possibly infected inmates were placed in quarantine. A second case was confirmed in a El Huila prison, following the confirmation of an inmate who tested positive in the Pitalito prison.
8 July. The management of the National Penitentiary Institute (Inpec) reported that 88 prisoners and an official of the mixed prison of Tuluá tested positive for COVID-19. They were being quarantined and medically treated. It also confirmed the deaths of two persons deprived of their liberty in Villahermosa prison in Cali, presumably as a result of COVID-19. Of the 722 persons affected, 637 were prisoners and 85 were civil servants.
6 July. The authorities announced the discovery of 32 positive cases among the 145 prisoners tested at Buenaventura prison.
5 July. The mayor of Jamundí confirmed that a prisoner and three officials from Valle prison were positive for COVID-19. A guard, who had been considerably weakened by the virus, was being treated in the hospital in Cali. Health protocols inside the prison were strengthened. The prison was working in collaboration with Piloto hospital to prevent a massive spread.
30 June. The health director of the municipality of Espinal confirmed that 103 new positive cases were detected in a single day at Tolima prison. Of the 413 affected, 19 were guards. Contaminated prisoners were quarantined while officers were medically treated at home. Espinal prison contained nearly half of the positive COVID-19 cases in the municipality (934 in total).
10 June. The number of confirmed cases among the prison population and prison staff of Cali went from 18 to 199 in two days. More than 5 600 people were detained, three times the number of available places.
4 June. About 10% of prisoners at Ternera prison in Cartagena (241 out of 2 385) and 78% of the prison population at Leticia prison (143 out of 183) tested positive.
3 June. The authorities confirmed that 878 prisoners incarcerated at Villavicencio prison tested positive, or in other words, about half its population. The number was equivalent to almost all positive cases (981) for the whole department of Meta.
16 May. Two prisoners tested positive at Rodrigo de Bastidas prison, following the testing of 39 prisoners. The prison population was 1 271 prisoners, three times its capacity.
12 May. One prisoner died in Leticia (Amazonas) prison. Eighty-nine other inmates and one staff member tested positive.
8 May. The number of positive cases confirmed in Villacicencio prison rose to 772, including about 40 guards.
27 April. The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in prisons rose to 213. Three prisoners died. Most of those infected were in Villavicencio prison (204). The other cases had been identified in the prisons of Picaleña (Ibagué), Leticia (Amazonas), La Picota (Bogotá), Las Heliconias (Caquetá) and Guaduas (Cundinamarca).
15 April. The authorities of the department of Meta confirmed fifteen COVID-19 cases in the Villavivencio prison.
11 April. The prison administration confirmed the first deaths from COVID-19: two men aged 63 and 78 at Villavicencio. The first died on 5 April, four days after his release. The second died on 7 April, two days after his transfer to the hospital.
25 March. Equipo Jurídico Pueblos reported that prisoners are showing symptoms characteristic of coronavirus. A woman detained in the Buen Pastor (Bogotá) prison is in solitary confinement after becoming ill with a high fever. Many detained people from the Torre 5 area of the high-security facility of Valledupar have fever and feel dizzy. Ten of them were placed in solitary confinement. They are asking the prison administration to take the necessary steps to guarantee healthcare. Prisoners of the Torre 4 area of La Tramacúa are locked up in their cell as a precautionary measure. Prisoners say that supervisory staff would walk around, disregarding barrier gestures. Equipo Jurídico Pueblos claims that these situations add to the panic of detained individuals and their loved ones. The condition remains tense in many facilities. According to the association, it is aggravated by collective punishments and the lack of communication with loved ones.
31 December. The number of positive cases rose to 2,885: 2,261 inmates and 624 staff members.
11 November. The number of positive inmates rose to 1,746. Twelve inmates have died from COVID-19.
22 October. The number of COVID-19 cases have increased since July. There are now 1,291 cases among prisoners and 497 among prison staff. Eleven prisoners have died.
21 July. Nine new cases were reported, bringing the total number of positive cases to 15.
3 July. The authorities declared that five prisoners tested positive.
1 June. The Minister of Justice confirmed that La Reforma prison in Alajuela had recorded its first positive case among prisoners. The prisoner was placed in quarantine together with their four cell mates. Three hundred prisoners were placed in quarantine as a precaution.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 0
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
9 June. The opponents of the regime denounced the prolonged imprisonment and deteriorating conditions of detention for political prisoners. By being incarcerated outside their province of origin, they did not always benefit from adequate food (in “rotting state”), or from medical care. Visits were always prohibited. Imprisonment prohibited moving from one province to another. Therefore, families were not able to provide for the prisoners needs or for the shortcomings of the prison administration.
12 May. Wives of political prisoners reported overcrowding as well as hygienic conditions which could have serious consequences on the health of detainees. Some prisoners were said to already present comorbid factors such as pathologies or advanced age. They since demanded for their release.
6 April. The prison administration announced the establishment of a prevention plan for detained persons, supervisors and any other person involved in detention. The measures include a hygiene and disinfection protocol, access to medical care and the creation of containment quarters.
1 April. Three people were sentenced to ten months of prison for spreading COVID 19 and failing to observe health measures. Cuban travellers who did not respect the quarantine could incur a sentence of up to two years of imprisonment.
17 June. The president of the People’s Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo Popular) affirmed that over 10 000 prisoners were granted early release due to the pandemic. Organisations defending human rights deplored the silence of the authorities on the circumstances of political prisoners, who were still incarcerated. The United Nations working group on arbitrary arrest had requested, over the previous weeks, the immediate release of a number of them.
30 April. The government ordered the release of 6 579 detained people following good conduct assessments. 421 remand prisoners returned to their homes pending trial. The rest of the detainees were released on parole.
Contact with the outside world
12 June. Authorities announced a reopening of transportation services in the near future, allowing visits to resume in the country’s prisons.
12 May. Some prisoners’ wives reported to not have heard from their spouses for several weeks. They said authorities did not always respect detainees’ right to make weekly phone calls or receive food parcels from relatives.
Appeals and recommendations
1 April. The Organization of American States called for the authorities to free political prisoners.
25 July. The head epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health emphasized that no prisoner had contracted the virus since the onset of the pandemic.
Contact with the outside world
6 April. Visits were suspended until further notice. Relatives would be allowed to bring cash and parcels. The food brought in would be washed with salt water or bleach before being given to the detainees. The administration increased the number of calls allowed. The temperature of anyone entering detention would have to be recorded. Each of them must disinfect their hands. New arrivals are placed in quarantine in a dedicated area. Overcrowding sometimes involved placing two or three prisoners in individual cells.
3 June. According to authorities, the number of prisoners was the lowest recorded in recent years. At least 1,525 people had been released since 1 April, with their sentences shortened or adjusted. Prison authorities said that the reduction of the prison population was due to the work they had carried out with the Judicial Council for the Implementation of the Recommendations of International Organisations.
Appeals et recommendations
20 June. Several Ecuadorian humanitarian organisations demanded that the government take measures to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities. Of 699 infected prisoners, ten died as a result of the virus and a further ten deaths were suspected of having occurred due to the virus.
Acts of protest
4 August . A mutiny broke out in a prison in the town of Guayaquil. Eleven inmates were killed and about 20 others wounded. Six police officers were injured. Authorities claimed that the violence resulted from a conflict between two gangs linked to drug trafficking.
18 September. Approximately 500 prisoners tested positive. To date, authorities have administered 3,000 rapid tests and about 1,000 PCR tests in correctional facilities.
6 July. Approximately 1,000 prisoners and prison staff tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 2,400 people with symptoms were tested. The virus was present in 20 of the country’s 38 prisons. Nearly 80% of the cases were located at prisons in Ambato, Cuenca and Ibarra. The latter had 119 positive cases and an occupancy rate of 300%.
20 June. The number of prisoners testing positive since the start of the pandemic rose to 699. Ten of them died. The director of the country’s rehabilitation service (SNAI) reported that 70% of prisoners at Ambeto prison were infected with the coronavirus.
6 June. An inmate at El Turi prison died from COVID-19. He had been the fourth to die since the beginning of the pandemic (one prisoner died in Quito and two others in Ambato prison). About 500 prisoners had tested positive.
2 June. Six prisoners tested positive at CRS Ibarra prison.
May. At Ambato prison, 70% of the 620 prisoners tested positive.
18 April. A prisoner died from COVID-19 at the El Inca remand centre in Quito. Authorities confirmed that there were three positive cases among guards at the facility.
The country has 2.3 million prisoners and more than 6,000 penitentiary facilities. Some 3,134 local jails are under the authority of the sherif. Some 4.9 million people serves time there each year. The local jails are not in capacity to face the risks of the pandemic, according to the Marshall Project.
Visits from relatives have been suspended in all Federal facilities for 30 days. Prisoners receive a credit of 500 minutes instead of the usual 300. Visits from lawyers have been suspended for 30 days, with some exceptions. Transfers between Federal facilites, correctional staff training, warden mutations were all suspended for 30 days. Some exceptions may be granted. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) details the exceptions, among which medical consultations and forensic investigations. The FBOP indicates also what precautions must be taken in case of transfers.
State by State.
Measures vary from on State to another. Most States have suspended visits from relatives and maintained those from lawyers. Visits by telephone are recommended. Some exceptions may apply.
A map established by the Marshall Project documents, day after day, what provisions are made.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
15 December. In Alaska, prison officials had not yet decided if prisoners would be the first to be vaccinated. This is part of the nationwide debate on the vaccine rollout plan. The governor of Colorado said that “there’s no way (the vaccine is) going to go to prisoners before it goes to people who haven’t committed any crime. That’s obvious.”
14 December. Federal prison workers were given their first vaccine. It was unclear which prisons would be getting the vaccines first.
13 December. Inmates and correctional staff in Massachusetts were among the first groups to be vaccinated. The vaccination process will be made clearer once the state receives the vaccines.
9 December. In Nevada, the prison administration outlined proposed measures to combat the rapid spread of coronavirus in prisons: signing a $10 million contract to carry out weekly mass testing, advocating the extension of vaccinations to prisoners, distributing masks, suspending visits. These measures are deemed insufficient by many prisoners’ families and civil society organisations.
8 December. The organisation Prison Policy Initiative estimated that the prison population needs to reduce by 30-40% to comply with health measures. Some old facilities do not allow for good ventilation or proper air renewal. In St Cloud and Stillwater prisons the cells are closed off by grates, which prevents adequate isolation as air is able to circulate freely.
Inmates are considered by 38 states to be a priority for the vaccine. The vaccination plans developed by officials often prioritise correctional staff before inmates and are “unclear and not specific”.
30 November. Prison inmates are four times more likely to contract the virus than people from the exterior. Yet, their vulnerability has not made them a priority group to receive the first vaccines. Some organizations are worried.
18 November. In Nevada, two prisoners out of a total prison population of 14,000 have been deemed eligible for early release on grounds of vulnerability to COVID-19. Organisations, including the ACLU, are calling for the scheme to be extended to more people.
17 November. In Louisiana, inmates carrying COVID-19 in Oakdale prison have not been isolated from the rest of the population. Prison officials stated that they have a surplus of protective equipment, however prison guards contradicted this statement. Some guards reported not wearing masks. An external monitoring body believes that some staff do not understand the need to comply with certain health measures.
16 November. The State of Alabama is spending $10 million on decontamination equipment. Some of the expenditure allows for the installation of hydroalcoholic gel dispensers and the purchase of thermal misters designed for “heavy decontamination of large areas”, as well as portable backpack sprayers for mid-sized areas (common areas, offices).
12 October. The pandemic rendered difficult access to healthcare. Treatments are postponed and the medical personnel has been reluctant to enter prisons for fear of the COVID-19.
11 October. In California, prisoners working conditions have not received particular attention and have evaded health protocols for months. Prisoners cook, do factory work, make masks and clean the premises for wages ranging from 8 cents to $ 1 an hour. While housed in different quarters, they are all mixed in their workplace, thus increasing the risk of contamination. Some fear losing their jobs or risk having their release date extended if they refuse to work. No amount makes it possible to know precisely the number of prisoners working on the 15,121 positive cases. At Avenal prison, an epidemic outbreak is said to have broken out in the workshops. The prison is said to have more than 2,930 positive cases and seven deaths.
7 October. In South Carolina, the Department of Corrections planned to install air ionizers. The Director of the Department of Corrections, Bryan Stirling, was pleased that South Carolina would be the first state to make this kind of investment, at a cost of approximately one million dollars. While they may not completely eliminate the virus, he believes the air ionizers will greatly slow down its spread. 7 October. An inspection of Lompoc prison (California) revealed serious deficiencies in the pandemic response. Soap was not always available and some inmates were forced to use the same towel to clean themselves and their cell. Infected inmates were quarantined in solitary confinement cells, cells that are normally used for punitive purposes. They were confined there alone for 22 to 24 hours a day, without access to a telephone or being allowed out for short periods. These conditions often deterred other inmates from reporting their symptoms to staff. Some reported being threatened by staff not to tell about the deficiencies.
29 September. In Texas, a federal judge directed authorities to provide more hand sanitizers, particularly to wheelchair users in a facility for elderly inmates. The prison administration mentioned its hesitation to provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers for security reasons.
23 September. Deerfield prison in Virginia is holding many vulnerable prisoners. Many of them sleep in dormitories where physical distancing is impossible to observe.
10 September. In Oregon, major fires led to the evacuation of three prisons, or 1450 inmates, to the facility of Salem which already had 2000 including 143 cases of COVID-19. Authorities agreed that this situation could favour the spread of the coronavirus. The prisoners, crammed into temporary dormitories, were already crowded. Some have found it difficult to breathe because of the fumes. The wait of the meal distribution is long and the atmosphere very tense. The lawyer for several recently transferred prisoners said: “To be honest, I don’t know if my clients are dead or alive”.
9 September. The authorities in charge of federal prisons (The Prison Department) has reportedly ignored the fragile health state of 93 of the 126 prisoners who died from COVID-19. As it was revealed by the Sentencing Resource Counsel for the Federal Public Community Defender in a press release, that a quarter of these prisoners were at least 70 years old. Four died after being declared cured. Quarantine sometimes takes place in quarters that have been condemned (following hurricanes in particular). The administration has “underestimated” or “minimized” the danger posed by the coronavirus according to the findings of several courts, notwithstanding the recommendations of the health authorities.
1 September. In Indiana, the army was mobilised to assist prison staff, which has a shortage of personnel. Members of the National Guard were deployed to areas where there is no contact with inmates (control pods).
4 August. The mental health of people in detention worsened, according to the Real News Network, because of pandemic measures. The program “Rattling the Bars” was alarmed at the consequences of suspending family visits, activities and work.
An inmate stated that: “The worst thing about this virus is the anxiety for fellow inmates. I wonder if they’re going to survive.”
16 July. The prison population decreased, between March and June, by over 100,000 prisoners, or by 8 %. This decrease, which affected State and Federal prisons, was partly due to the suspension of inmate transfers from county prisons. Data collected in Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey and Illinois showed that prisoner release played a minor role in the reduction of the prison population. It was rather due to less legal activity and fewer people in custody.
In Pennsylvania, a measure in April permitted the release of 1,500 inmates who were eligible for early parole. Three months later, fewer than 160 had benefited from this
8 June. In Texas, the inmates from Wynne Prison contradicted the statements from the authorities on the coronavirus management. They indicated that no tests had been performed since April and that feverish prisoners had returned to detention without precaution. This prison recorded 20 deaths.
7 June. In Louisiana, women were imprisoned in close quarters. Beds were not widely spaced enough in dormitories. Those conditions were caused by the transfer of 1 000 prisoners after the flooding of the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW), St Gabriel, in 2016. They were imprisoned in two overcrowded facilities. They had been instructed to “alternate head and foot positions on adjacent bunks to increase their breathing zone” and avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
20 May. In California, there was an outcry over the handling of the epidemic in prison. Allegedly, sanitary protocols had not been respected in at least six prisons that had been particularly badly affected. Ill prisoners said that they had lacked water, food, access to medical treatment and contact with their relatives and lawyers once they were placed in quarantine. They said they had not had access to showers or the courtyard. Prisoners were penalised for wearing a mask.
12 May. In Arizona, hygiene products were lacking. Handsets had not been regularly disinfected. A prisoner confided that they cleaned them by moistening sanitary napkins which they bought. Other detainees reported using their own soap and shampoo to clean cups and cutlery. Prisoners in charge of the maintenance of the premises indicated that they only had a “bottle of pink liquid” to clean the common space and the cells but did not receive gloves. Those who worked in the workshop were not able to respect the distance measures and the tools were shared amongst them.
6 May. In New Jersey, hygiene products and sanitary measures were insufficient. A prisoner collapsed during a temperature rise. Officers sprayed him with disinfectant spray before taking care of him, witnesses mentioned. The ACLU complained.
19 April. The contamination rate at Rikers Island Prison is nine times higher than in the rest of the country. An ex-detainee reported on the conditions in which he had been detained: “There were maybe 37 of us in my dormitory, everyone was moving around and touching everything”. He also shared information on the protective equipment available: “Just soap and water, that’s all we were given, no disinfectant. As for masks, we were only given two in 14 days.”
13 April. In Oregon, a prisoner exhibited his working conditions. According to him, they did not made it possible to respect measures of social distancing. The searches were carried out by supervisors who did not all wear gloves. Prisoners worked “shoulder to shoulder”, used the same sanitation and touched the same objects. Those who refused to work faced sanctions or even transfer to an establishment with stricter detention regimes. A human rights activist expressed his belief that the Oregon prison administration “deliberately and willfully ignored the public health threat” posed by the epidemic. He considered that the measures taken were “half measures”.
8 April. At least 1,324 people linked to the prison environment (staff, prisoners, probation officers) were tested. Thirty-two people died. These figures are probably underestimated. Not all jurisdictions reported their data.
In California, nurses who practiced in prison facilities during the lockdown could be called upon to work 16 consecutive hours. They must “comply or expect retaliation”.
Prisoners had their meals in cells. They still had access to the courtyard and telephone booths, area by area.
7 April. The authorities of Louisiana planned to transfer detainees carrying COVID-19 to a dedicated area, Camp J, within the Angola prison. The building closed in 2018 after being pinned down for ill-treatment, “ruined infrastructure” and insufficient ventilation. A human rights defender describes it as follows: “This is a dungeon that has had some beds and a mop thrown into it.” A representative of the prison administration explained that the severe cases would be taken to the hospital. Angola prison is currently on trial due to poor prison conditions and lack of access to healthcare.
5 April. An internal document from the state prison system of Alabama contained the prediction that there would be about 185 deaths in prison, in the worst case scenario. The prisoners of the State’s two gaols were helping to make masks. 2 000 to 2 500 masks were produced every day.
4 April. A lawyer from New York stated: “There’s a lot of terror, a lot of people not getting medical care, a lot of frightened staff, and a growing sense among the inmates, just as in the blackout last year, that we’ve been left here to die.”
1st April. The situation in Oakdale (Louisiana), an establishment mourning by the death of two prisoners, was found in “great desperation”. The health authorities indicated to the prison administration that it was no longer necessary to screen anyone and to assume that everyone who had symptoms of COVID-19 “certainly had it”.
31 March. The former chief medical officer of Rikers Island (New York) explained that prisons were “almost perfectly designed to promote the transmission of communicable disease”. Shortage of hygiene products, insufficient ventilation, and promiscuity: the doctor pointed out the inadequacies of the prison world and the health conditions of prisoners. Prisoners at age 50 had the heart disease, the lung disease, the morbidity of somebody on the outside who would be 60.
18 March. The San Quentin prison (California) placed some 1,800 police prisoners in quarantine after detecting flu symptoms. Two buildings are concerned, including the unit for newly arrived prisoners.
17 March. Correctional staff were facing a high number of arriving prisoners who must be placed in quarantine. The officers were overwhelmed and concerned that they might need to transfer the prisoners to the sector hospital. A Texas prison guard reported: “I can’t imagine a local hospital giving inmates preference if they get to the point they have to make hard decisions on saving lives,” And added: “We don’t have ventilators on hand at all. We are not a hospital. We don’t have the medical staff”.
6 March. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) explained the widespread concern: “Although people often think of prisons and jails as closed environments, they are not. Medical staff, correctional staff, and visitors come from the community into the facilities every day and then return home”. Prisoners circulate between courts, police custody and healthcare facilities. The material conditions of detention are poor: lack of space in overcrowded and under-ventilated cells, lack of soap and other hygiene products. The ACLU published a list to steer decisions that administrations may take. For instance:
• What are the circumstances that must lead the medical screening of individuals? How many tests must be ordered?
• If prisoners need to be placed in quarantine or given treatment, how should it be organised?
29 December. Officials in California reported that 18,300 inmates were released early since the beginning of the pandemic. The number of releases for medical reasons dropped at the height of the pandemic, but prison officials said there were many other reasons for releasing inmates early. The California state governor, Gavin Newsom, said “I simply will not en masse release people without looking individual by individual.”
9 December. In Oregon, prisoners who had been granted release are still incarcerated. The authorities report that they are struggling to find them suitable accommodation.
8 December. In Minnesota, the conditions for release on health grounds were extended. More than 2,300 inmates in state prisons have applied. Just over 150 of these requests were granted but no further releases are being planned.
30 November. The Bail reform in New York has led to a drop of 40% in the number of people held on pretrial before the pandemic. However, this trend did not last: the introduction of changes in the document has effectively undone the gains achieved and allowed judges to find legal loopholes to set high bail amounts. The alternative to pretrial incarceration increased by 28% between April and November.
4 November. In New Jersey, the authorities announced a plan to release more than 2,000 prisoners at once. A further 1,000 releases are expected in the coming weeks and months. The prison population has been reduced by 35% since March. Prisoners serving the last year of their sentence (excluding for murder and sexual assault) are eligible. Upon
release, they are taken to transition centres (transit hubs), semi-liberty centres or to their hometown. “We are trying to compress in a minimum of time a process that usually takes six months,” said the Governor’s spokesman. A professor and former lawyer is worried: “They are often released with $10, a bus ticket and the shirt on their back, and wished good luck (…) You are releasing people because of the pandemic, into the pandemic. Unless there are safe places for them to go, what are we doing with all these people to make sure they can begin to build new lives?”
6 August. In New Jersey, a bill on sentence adjustments was pending. The measure would allow for the release of 3,000 prisoners with less than one year remaining in their sentences, excluding those incarcerated for sexual crimes. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 338 vulnerable prisoners were released from federal institutions and 700 from county jails. The New Jersey ACLU welcomed the law, which would be a first for the country: “Some people have received long sentences, but they have not been sentenced to die in prison.
29 June. In California, the authorities responsible for corrections and rehabilitation announced that prisoners whose remaining sentence was less than 180 days were to be placed in home confinement under post-release supervision. The program was set to begin on 1 July. The following were excluded: persons convicted of violent or sexual offenses or perpetrators of domestic violence. The state had already released roughly 3 500 inmates that were sick, elderly, vulnerable or reaching the end of their sentence. The same amount of more could be potentially eligible for early release through this new measure.
22 June. In California, inmates whose remaining sentence was less than 180 days could claim parole. Persons convicted of violent offenses, domestic violence or who were registered as sex offenders were excluded from this scheme.
9 June. In Michigan, the number of prisoners dropped 5.2% in three months. This drop, described as historic, resulted from the initiatives to adjust sentences, the decreased numbers of admissions, and the minimised return to detention after violating the conditions of probation. The authorities indicated that they “accelerated” the release processes.
13 April. The Governor of Arkansas excluded the release of prisoners: “prisoners are in a maximum security prison for a reason, so there is no question for the moment”. He added that in the event of wider spread, certain “plans” could be examined but that this possibility was “not on the agenda”. The state had nearly 1 500 cases.
6 April. An order set, in California, the amount of the bail for the most so-called minor offenses and offenses at $0. This was presented as a “far-reaching” measure and the “attempt to empty prisons to curb the spread of the new coronavirus”.
31 March. California anticipated the release of 3 500 prisoners convicted of so-called “non-violent” minor offenses. The prison administration planned to facilitate the conditional release of detainees by the end of their sentence and to suspend the arrival of detainees from prisons. They intended to reduce the prison population by 3 000 people in one month.
Authorities were working on housing solutions for those who had been released and were reported to be homeless. Some released individuals were accommodated in local hotel rooms.
Twenty-two officers and four prisoners were tested positive.
30 March. Los Angeles County Sheriff released up to 1,700 inmates who were close to the end of their sentences during the month of March.
27 March. The release of 1,100 detainees (of 80,000 people detained) was ordered by the Governor of New York State.
23 March. The executions of two death penalty prisoners were postponed. Sanitary conditions did not allow to guarantee the safety of the witnesses and the staff. The coronavirus epidemic has brought to a halt most legal and court proceedings. Thousands of elderly or pre-trial detention prisoners were reported to have been released in Kentucky, Ohio and Texas.
21 March. A dozen of pregnant prisoners were released. The Harris County administration (Houston, Texas) attempted to decrease the prison population. Parole applications were made for prisoners aged 50 or more and for the vulnerable individuals. The prison population decreased by 6.5%.
The Alameda County administration (California) released 300 prisoners from Santa Rita.
19 March. The Arkansas ACLU submitted a request to the State authorities. The association called for the release of prisoners whose remaining sentence is less than one year as well as the prisoners who are ill. The governor declared that he was not considering this option. He considered that the measures taken in the State prisons were appropriate and sufficient. Visits were suspended and arriving prisoners would be isolated from the others during 15 days. The State of Arkansas had at this point 26,000 prisoners, 18,000 of whom detained in State prisons.
17 March. Various calls were made to ask for the release of prisoners, among which those of Rikers Island in New York
16 March. The Los Angeles County proceeded to the release of 600 prisoners. The Sheriff recommended that law enforcement staff drastically decrease arrests. The number of arrests dropped from an average of 300 to 60.
Contact with the outside world
16 November. In Illinois, the Cook County Sheriff again suspended visits due to a rise in cases. Visits will resume as soon as possible.
22 July. In eight states, visits by relatives resumed with some adjustments and limitations. In Minnesota, for example, visits resumed in seven prisons which had fewer than two cases in the previous fortnight. In North Dakota and Ohio, institutions were conducting open-air visits.
Twenty-six states allowed visits by lawyers. In North Carolina, chaplain visits were also permitted.
Eighteen states maintained a total suspension of visitation. Only a few exceptions applied. The Marshall Project provided an overview.
30 June. In Florida, the suspension of visits was extended until 15 July. The resumption of the visits would be decided with public health experts. Prisoners could keep in contact with their loved ones by post, email and telephone.
10 June. In North Carolina, the epidemic contributed to the understaffing of personnel in detention. The prison administration signed a contract with a private company to hire agents who were paid up to two and a half more times the salary than an official. The spokesman for the prison administration denied wanting to privatize prisons. A clause provided the use of private agents for a period of two years.
1st April Federal prison authorities declared lockdown to all federal institutions for a period of fifteen days. Medico-psychological meetings and instructional activities were maintained as much as possible.
17 March. The oversight visits of prison control bodies were suspended. The Marshall project explained it had lost all visibility on what happened in prison. The independent control bodies of Illinois and New York had no more access to prisons. Lawyers, journalists and civil society organisations pointed out the lack of transparency of the authorities.
14 March. The New York State department of corrections announced a series of measures with a view of maintaining family ties, including:
• the free provision of five postal stamps per week
• the right to receive 2 emails per week via a pad
• the right to one free phone call per week
12 March. The Florida Department of Corrections announced a partnership with Securus Technologies and its subsidiary, Jpay. Each prisoner could enjoy two 15-minute calls, four e-mails (priced individually) and one videoconference visit until 5 April. Families demanded that those services be free. They also criticised the brevity of the calls and the technological disparities that prevented equitable access to videoconference visits.
Acts of protest
13 December. Inmates in Texas started dozens of fires throughout the pandemic to protest prison conditions. These incidents are “easy to ignore” by prison staff since many prisons are not equipped with proper smoke detectors or fire alarms. A 2019 inspection showed that almost 3,000 of them were not functional. Less than 6% have been repaired.
14 November. There were at least 106 movements led by inmates between March and June to protest against the management of the pandemic. A report from the Perilous project, released today, listed hunger strikes, escape attempts and riots reported over a 90-day period.
1 August. In Georgia, an uprising occurred at Ware State Prison. According to the prison administration, three prisoners and two staff members were injured during the clashes. Sources from the Human and Civil Rights Coalition reported that 10 inmates and 3 staff members were injured. Prisoners protested the lockdown imposed by authorities since July 17, following four suspected killings.
Several videos of the uprising were shot by inmates and circulated on social networks.
27 June. In North Carolina, a riot broke out at Salisbury prison. New arrivals protested against their placement in quarantine.
30 March. Two prisoners aged 69 and 73 filed a complaint against the prison administration of Texas. They accused them of failing to guarantee the safety of detainees under their charge. The authorities reported that they had taken measures, including reducing the number of participants in activities and people in the dining halls and suspending visits. These measures are considered insufficient by the complainants, who indicated that the measures were not always enforced.
Appeals and recommendations
21 October. In California, prison officials have been accused of “deliberate indifference” towards the health and safety of inmates. The measures taken were deemed inadequate. In its ruling, the First District Court of Appeal stated that authorities did not treat the situation as a crisis and that this carelessness is “morally indefensible and constitutionally untenable”. They called on prison officials to cut the prison population in half.
21 October. In Texas, the rights of hundreds of minors incarcerated in five different prisons are regularly flouted. The organizations Texas Appleseed and Disability Right Texas are asking the Department of Justice to investigate their detention conditions, which are difficult to control due to the pandemic. A complaint was filed at the federal level and referred to sexual assault, inadequate mental health care, frequent use of force (handcuffs, shackles, pepper spray) and unqualified personnel.
29 September. In Texas, a judgment was rendered after the filing of a complaint by elderly and vulnerable inmates against the prison administration (The Texas Department of Criminal Justice). The prisoners complained of inadequate sanitary measures and demanded protective equipment and hygiene products. The judge ruled in their favor, stating that the officers acted “with deliberate indifference to the medical needs of the inmates, and recklessly disregarded the obvious health risks posed by the virus.” Prison authorities say that they are appealing this decision, and that they have been taking all the necessary health precautions. The judge has expressed doubts about these claims, based on the text messages between prison officials attempting to present themselves in a more favorable light. During the trial, two other inmates died.
3 August. In Georgia, the Human and Civil Rights Coalition denounced the lack of care in the Ware State Prison facility. Inmates in an entire wing were reportedly infected and did not have adequate access to health care. A former warden said the prison was severely understaffed.
21 May. An opinion piece berated the Bureau of Prisons’ handling of the epidemic. Its author, Andrew Cohen, considered that the authorities had not gauged the danger represented by COVID-19 and that they had “failed to adequately protect both prisoners and prison employees”. He also criticised the decision to maintain workshops while most shops and industries were suspending business. Finally, he regretted their lack of transparency with regard to the public.
12 May. In Arizona, five detainees with fragile health pressed charges against the director of Florence prison, the Bureau of Prisons (prison administration at the federal level) and the US Marshals (police department of the federal government). The complaint was brought by the ACLU and the law firm Perkins Coie. One of the main requests was to have an independent expert on site to see if the sanitary measures had been taken.
7 April. In Oregon, seven prisoners incarcerated in four different facilities sued several officials. They accused them of not having been able to sufficiently prevent the epidemic of coronavirus in prisons. The complainants all have medical conditions which make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
4 April. In California, a panel of federal judges rejected a “massive” release request made by various lawyers. They said they felt “no satisfaction” in rejecting a question they consider “important”. Another court ruling encouraged the state to release 6,500 prisoners. The three judges enjoined the prison authorities to “do more”.
31 March. Lawyers were worried for their clients in pre-trial detention. The last detainees must wait in detention while the investigation about their situation had been postponed. Their files risked not being studied until after the arrival of new and larger cases once the courts would reopen.
30 March. Public health experts and several lawyers requested for the Governor of New York State to release elderly and chronically ill prisoners on medical parole, to grant early release to inmates at the end of their sentences and to release the 4,000 people who are incarcerated for violation of the terms of their conditional incarceration (appointment not honored with an agent, for example).
27 March. A complaint to the Federal Court in Brooklyn (New York) requested the immediate release of 540 prisoners.
Sentenced to death
5 August. The Department of Justice scheduled two federal executions for the end of September. Three executions were carried out in July, with two more scheduled for August. This resumption of executions ended a 17-year hiatus in federal executions.
20 May. Executions were resuming. In Missouri, Walter B. was given a lethal injection. It was the first execution since 5 March. Ten or so had been postponed, particularly in Ohio and Tennessee.
29 December. The total number of inmates in California who tested positivesince the beginning of the pandemic increased to 32,000. More than a third of them were detected in the last two months. The incidence rate in prison is 390 per 1,000 inmates, compared to the exterior, which is 53.
28 December. Four inmates in Colorado have died. There were 24 deaths from the coronavirus in the state overall. In December 1,500 “active” cases were recorded among inmates and 1,200 among staff.
27 December The Hiland Mountain women’s prison in Alaska reported 109 positive cases.
19 December. One in five inmates tested positive for COVID-19. This is four times more than in the general population. Deaths rose to 1,700, a number that is largely under-reported, according to a doctor who once worked at Rikers prison.
Half of the inmates in Kansas have been infected. In Arkansas, four out of seven inmates were infected, which was the second highest rate of infection in the country.
16 December. Donovan prison (San Diego) in California reported 400 cases among inmates, who were being quarantined in the prison gym. Masks and personal protection equipment were distributed and mass testing was conducted.
15 December. The Goose Creek prison in Alaska had 708 positive cases. Other state prisons reported their own number of cases: Anchorage (112), Yukon-Kuskokwim (68).
Cities, counties and states with the highest numbers of inmates are also the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Prison Policy Initiative organisation published a report that shows a link between “mass incarceration” and the spread of the coronavirus within the prison “community and environments”. Excessive recourse to incarceration has resulted in an additional 500,000 cases in three months. The organisation listed these results and used Marion County (Ohio) as an example.
14 December. The Westmoreland prison in Pennsylvania reported 114 cases. Two of the wards were placed under quarantine for 14 days. Daily showers and exercise time were permitted.
12 December. Alabama is the state with the fourth highest number of COVID-19 deaths in prison.
11 December. In Hawai, Halawa prison reported that 68 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19. Other state prisons reported their own number of cases: Oahu (449), Waiawa (213).
10 December. In Alabama, prisons were subject to numerous complaints: violence, degrading and deteriorating prison conditions…The outbreak of coronavirus in detention, with 43 dead since the beginning of the year, highlights the extent of the shortcomings.
9 December. In Nevada, COVID-19 cases have increased in confinement. Some institutions are almost entirely affected. 12% of inmates and staff are infected state-wide. The prison administration defended its record and actions, suggesting other factors are to blame.
8 December. The federal prison administration reported that 5,000 federal prisoners and 1,500 staff members are carriers of COVID-19.
In Minnesota, Duluth prison had 41 prisoners and three staff members who tested positive for COVID-19.
5 December. In Alaska, the outbreak in Goose Creek prison continues to grow. The 581 COVID-19 positive prisoners represent 46% of the facility’s total population. An outbreak has been identified in Yukon Kuskokwim“ prison, with 46 confirmed cases. Thirteen inmates are currently hospitalised state-wide.
2 December. Laurel Highlands prison, in Pennsylvania, reported 444 positive cases, which is half of its population. It also reported eight deaths in the last fifteen days. The facility is located in a former psychiatric hospital and, for the most part, houses the State’s elderly and infirm inmates. Prison officials stated that half of the positive cases are no longer actively ill and the prevention strategy is bearing fruit. The measures taken are regarded as models (cancelation of visits, mass testing, limited outdoor activities).
1 December. A new death was recorded in Alaska. The man was 77 years old.
30 November. Across the nation, a total of 200,000 prisoners have currently tested positive and at least 1,450 inmates and staff members have died from COVID-19.
24 November. In Alaska, the number of cases in Goose Creek prison continue to rise, with 299 inmates positive with COVID-19. One-third of them are considered to have “recovered”. One 69 yearold man died.
In California, the prison located in the center of Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Detention Center, recorded 219 cases among the inmates and 12 among staff. It is the fourth largest outbreak within the prison system.
20 November. InIowa, 3,400 cases and nine deaths have been recorded among inmates and staff members. In the Anamosa facility three-quarters of the prison population have contracted the virus .
17 November. In Delaware, nearly 20 prisoners tested positive at James T. Vaughn prison. Of these, 18 were transferred to a care centre attached to the institution. The State registered 590 cases and 11 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
16 November. In Alabama, the number of cases continue to rise, with 761 prisoners testing positive since the beginning of the pandemic.
15 November. In Texas, the number of deaths resulting from COVID-19 was 231, of which 204 people were in custody. Nine of these inmates were awaiting release following a sentence adjustment and 21 had served 90% of their sentence.
In Mississippi, the Marshall County Correctional Center reported 53 COVID-19 positive inmates.
13 November. In Nevada, more than 80% of inmates at Carson City prison tested positive.
In Iowa, the authorities reported that, in the space of a week, more than 1,000 other prisoners tested positive. The State is one of three with the most cases. Five prisoners have died since the beginning of the pandemic in the following institutions: Fort Dodge (3), Coralville (1), Anamosa (1).
9 November. In Alaska, the Goose Creek prison, which is the largest in the State, experienced an explosion in the number of cases, with 110 inmates testing positive. Other State prisons were also affected, such as Fairbanks (104), Anchorage (2) and Wildwood (1). No deaths were reported by the authorities.
18 October. In Alaska, 33 inmates at Fairbanks Prison tested positive. The facility was placed in quarantine for a period of 14 days.
16 October. In South Dakota, 127 inmates at Mike Durfee State Prison tested positive . Transfers, activities and classes have been suspended.
14 October. In the State of New York, the Greene County facilities have seen the number of COVID-19 cases steadily increasing. There are reportedly 89 positive prisoners, most of whom are held at Coxsackie Prison. In Wisconsin, a third state prison faced several new cases. Racine / Sturtevant prison has 127 cases. This situation adds to the crisis of the Kettle Moraine (352 cases) and Oshkosh (347 cases) settlements. The ACLU points out the shortcomings of the authorities and considers “witnessing the consequences from the lack of action”. The association has called for the release of the most fragile prisoners but remains without results.
13 October. In Michigan, Marquette Branch counted 158 positive cases of COVID-19. The staff is insufficient: 79 are currently isolated in their homes. The officers do not follow all the sanitary rules, according to the spokesperson of the prison administration. Video surveillance aims to resolve this.
6 October. In Utah, one of the prisons in the Draper complex reported that 60% of its inmates tested positive for COVID-19. These 196 inmates are located in the Wasatch prison, one of the facilities within the prison complex.
29 September. In Texas, the number of prison deaths related to Covid-19, totaling 162, exceeds the number recorded for the entire federal system. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 23,000 inmates and 4,800 agents have tested positive.
28 September. In California, a sixth inmate of the state prison in Avenal died as a result of Covid-19. There have now been 64 deaths recorded in state prisons.
In Michigan, Muskegon prison records 997 positive cases, representing 75% of the total prison population. Twenty-seven staff members are also infected. The decisions made by authorities and staff are believed to have contributed significantly to the spread of the epidemic.
27 September. In California, the first Covid-related inmate death was recorded at Folsom prison. The prison has 527 cases. 23 September. In Virginia, 10 inmates died from COVID-19 at Deerfield prison. Thirty-six guards tested positive.
In Minnesota, 88 inmates tested positive at Waseca federal prison, or 15 % of its population. It is strictly a prison for women. Two staff members also tested positive.
8 September. In Oregon, an inmate died at Snake River prison. He is the sixth prisoner in this state to die from COVID-19.
4 September. In Michigan, Muskegon Prison counted 885 positive cases out of the 1300 inmates in the facility. Twenty-six staff members were also infected. These numbers surpassed those recorded in Lakeland prison, where half of the prison population, or 815 people, had been infected.
3 September. The death rate of prisoners was twice as high as the general population. The infection rates were four times higher.
1 September. In Indiana, more than 100 inmates at Terre Haute prison tested positive for COVID-19. One inmate in that prison died in May.
5 August. In Arizona, 517 inmates at Tucson Whetstone Prison tested positive. This number represents half of the prison’s population. They were isolated from the rest of the inmates.
A massive testing campaign at Muskegon prison in Michigan revealed 155 positive cases. Most of them were asymptomatic.
The average rate of infection was five and a half times higher in prison than outside: 3,251 compared to 587 per 100,000 in the general population. Deaths were 39 per 100,000 in prison and 29 per 100,000 outside.
4 August. In California, 8,300 inmates tested positive and 49 died. San Quentin Federal Penitentiary alone had 2,469 cases and 21 deaths since the end of May. The contagion was linked to the transfer of 121 inmates from Chino prison in the southern part of the state.
3 August. Kentucky State Reformatory reported a total of 811 coronavirus positive inmates. Six inmates died as a result of the virus.
22 July. In Texas, 510 women tested positive for coronavirus in a federal prison.
21 July. In Arizona, a private prison run by the company CoreCivic reported 69 cases among inmates. The facility received prisoners from different states (Kansas, Hawai, Nevada). All of the people who tested positive were from Nevada. None of them showed any symptoms. Prisoners who had been in contact with the sick were quarantined as a precautionary measure.
16 July. At least 64,119 inmates tested positive for COVID-19. Over 7 300 new cases were detected compared to the previous week, that is an increase of 13%. Texas was the State with the highest number of ill inmates (over 12,000), more than in California and Ohio. The greatest number of ill inmates per 10,000 prisoners were recorded in Arkansas, New Jersey and Tennessee.
30 June. In Florida, prisons counted 1,963 positive cases and 24 deaths. The prison administration also reported 438 positive cases among staff.
29 June. In California, in San Quentin prison, 900 additional cases were identified in the past two weeks. Transfers carried out between facilities contributed to the spread of the epidemic.
29 June. In Michigan, two inmates from North Lake private prison died from COVID-19. The Federal Bureau of Prisons reported that 100 others had recovered. All aspects of imprisonment, including healthcare, were entirely managed by GEO. The authorities declared this facility as a “model prison”.
22 June. The prisons of San Quentin and Corcoran (California) counted more than 300 and 150 positive cases respectively. In San Quentin, the number of sick had multiplied by six in the space of 48 hours. Two housing units were placed under quarantine. This increase followed a transfer of prisoners from the Chino facility, where more than 850 cases had been identified. The transferred prisoners had not been tested before their departure. The number of positive cases in Californian prisons rose to 3,700 and the number of deaths to 19.
10 June. In Oregon, the coronavirus epidemic of Shutter Creek prison is “over,” officials said. New cases appeared to be slowing down. The number of inmates who had been positive from the coronavirus was 167.
In Alabama, a second prisoner died. He had been notifying the authorities about his fragile health state for two years.
9 June. Michigan was one of the only two states to screen all prisoners, indicated the authorities. They reported that 68 prisoners had died and 3,944 were positive.
8 June. In Texas, the number of cases in state prisons increased to 6,900. 1,000 agents tested positive. The number of cases “broke out” since the massive test campaigns in state prisons.
7 June. In Louisiana, two women’s prisons had a coronavirus infection rate of 87% and 60% respectively. Since the beginning of the epidemic, two women and 12 men incarcerated in the State had died.
In California, San Quentin prison reported that 14 prisoners were carrying COVID-19, as well as six members of staff.
2 June. In West Virginia, 118 prisoners tested positive in the Huttonsville prison.
1 June. In California, the first prison employee death was reported. In Tennessee, hundreds of prisoners and staff tested positive in the Bledsoe prison. This made it the most affected prison in the State. Some blamed it on the poor handling of the outbreak, a pandemic that “could have been 100% prevented”. The lack of staff could lead the authorities to call in the National Guard.
20 May. In California, 3,200 prisoners were ill and at least 16 had died.
19 May. “Prisons have been swamped with the virus”, headlined the New York Times. They reported more than 42,000 identified cases and 432 deaths among detainees and staff. The three largest “clusters” had more than 1 200 cases each. Almost all state prisons would be affected, although many people are asymptomatic.
18 May. In Michigan, a union official representative of the sheriffs stated that “work in a prison in Wayne County is a death sentence “.
Reuters said some establishments were using large-scale screenings. The 37 state prisons that did so counted 10 000 confirmed cases out of a total population of 44 000. Federal prisons reserved screening for people with severe symptoms. Nearly 4 200 cases had been confirmed there. The biggest unknown lied in local prisons (local jails) where the situation was “opaque”. No follow-up had been done.
12 May. In Arizona, the data made public did not allow to understand the number of people tested among the 4,000 currently counted in the prison of Florence. At least 400 were placed in quarantine.
5 May. In Louisiana, 113 prisoners at the Oakdale Prison tested positive.
30 april. In Texas, a 30-year-old inmate died as a result of COVID-19. The death occurred two days after the inmate gave birth to a baby. The birth took place with the mother on a ventilator.
In California, the federal Bureau of Prisons reported a contamination rate of 70% among prisoners tested.
29 April. The Marshall Project was listing the number of cases identified, the States in which they occurred and the number of deaths. The number of prisoners carrying COVID-19 rose to 14,513. States such as Ohio and Michigan had greatly contributed to the rapid upswing in the previous few days.
28 april. The Sterling prison in Colorado counted 238 confirmed cases. This facility was the most affected by the outbreak in Colorado.
20 April. In Ohio, over 1,800 prisoners at the Marion Correctional Institution tested positive, in addition to 109 prison guards.
19 April. In California, an inmate died as a result of COVID-19 for the first time.
18 April. In Alabama, a prisoner died from the consequences of COVID-19 for the first time.
13 April. In Illinois, near Chicago, 306 people detained at Cook County Jail tested positive. Two prisoners died, twenty were hospitalized, 32 were placed in a recovery facility and 48 tested negative. Five prisoners from the Stateville Correctional center died.
In Arkansas, 44 of the 47 people detained in the same building in Cumins prison tested positive. The prison administration spokeswoman explained that state prisons were still receiving new arrivals (transfers from local jails) but that they were being quarantined for two weeks.
8 April. In California, the number of people tested positive rised to 81, including 19 inmates. Staff counted 62 cases, including two nurses.
In Texas, 15 facilities were placed in lockdown. The balance sheet showed 56 officers and 47 prisoners tested positive. Hundreds of people in correctional facilities were under observation.
In Illinois, the prisons in Chicago were shown as the most affected by the epidemic. More than 350 people tested positive in the previous two weeks.
6 April. In Ohio, three prisoners died from coronavirus at Elkton prison. The administration counted 23 detainees and two officers tested positive in the same facility. The National Guard was called in for reinforcement. Its agents will not be armed and will not do any act relating to security. “It is a medical mission”, said the Governor.
4 April. Few tests were carried out in the prisons of New York. Seven prisoners were tested out of the 1,700 incarcerated in the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn.
30 March. Two prisoners and seven officers were tested in different facilities in Texas. The movement of hundreds of detainees have been limited.
One hundred and one prisoners and a dozen officers tested positive in a prison in Chicago (Illinois). Authorities in Michigan counted 78 infected people in state jails. Rikers Island (New York) counted 167 confirmed cases.
29 March. Prisoner incarcerated in Oakdale (Louisiana) died from the COVID-19. This was the first reported death by the federal authorities.
29 March. A prisoner tested positive at East Baton Rouge prison (Louisiana). Ninety-four detainees were placed in quarantine.
25 March. Seventy-five inmates and 37 officers (New York) tested positive.
23 March. One prisoner was tested positive to the COVID-19 on Rikers Island (New York). A correctional staff union reported that one warden was infected. The chief physician for Rikers Island called out to the Ministry of Justice : “Think of a cruise ship recklessly boarding more passengers each day. (…) Please let as many out as you possibly can”. Some twenty wardens and prisoners are reported to be contaminated in this prison.
17 March. A Department of Correction investigator died from the COVID-19.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
19 June. The prison administration launched calls for tenders aimed at acquiring medicine, sanitary equipment, as well as cleaning services three months after the first case was identified in the country.
28 May. The Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos (PDH)deplored the lack of health equipment in the country’s prisons.
22 May. The authorities announced that they were setting up isolation areas for the most vulnerable prisoners and renovating prisons such as that of Fraijanes II. Those premises would be used exclusively to house prisoners who tested positive.
13 May. The rapporteurs of the national office for the prevention of torture noted that widespread overcrowding in the country’s prisons prevented any social distancing. They also deplored the lack of package disinfection, as well as the lack of protective equipment for prisoners and prison staff. Prisoners must obtain hydroalcoholic gel or masks by themselves.
8 May. Luis Rodolfo Escobar, head of the Directorate General of Prisons, announced that prisoners would not be tested in the absence of symptoms, as the virus was not “inside prisons “.
14 April. Two detainees from the Mariscal Zavala detention center showed symptoms and were tested with a negative result. The establishment accommodated 240 prisoners for 135 places.
30 March. Minor detainees at the Las Gaviotas juvenile center, south of Guatemala City, made 5 000 masks in two weeks. The masks would be distributed to institutions and families unable to obtain them. “If I have been able to harm Guatemala in the past, today I want to make up for my mistakes”, Jason said. The project was to be extended to the four correctional centers managed by the Secretaría de Bienestar Social de la Presidencia de la República (SBS). The materials used were certified by military doctors, and messages of encouragement would be printed on the masks as part of the reintegration program.
8 June. Authorities published the statistics of the prison system. Despite the recommendations of experts and various international bodies, there were more prisoners in the country’s prisons than at the beginning of the epidemic.
July 4. It announced that it would present, in the next few days, judicial reforms to free prisoners and reduce the risk of pandemics in prisons. The cases of another 380 prisoners were being studied, with each release being treated individually.
June 23. The Instituto de la Defensa Pública Penal (IDPP) confirmed the early release of 61 inmates, out of 159 requests examined since the appearance of the first case. The Defender of Rights evaluated these anecdotal releases. These releases were only the minimum of the measures prescribed by law and demonstrated the authorities’ lack of interest in prisoners’ health.
Contact with the outside world
Visits were prohibited within the prisons and in minor detention centres.
Acts of protest
Appeals and recommendations
10 June. Some experts and the Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos (PDH) estimated that it was necessary to simplify the testing in the country’s prisons. Until this point, they had not been enough.
21 April. A prisoner acknolwedged the worries about the conditions in prison. He sent a letter to Prison Insider outlining what accommodation measures should be taken.
28 July. The National Office for the Prevention of Torture denounced the lack of health protocols and the isolation measures taken in overcrowded facilities. Out of the country’s 26 000 prisoners, only 433 had been tested and 198 turned out positive.
26 July. The former head of the Guatamalan Correction Services died from COVID-19. He had been incarcerated at the Mariscal Zavala prison.
22 July. The head of Correctional Services reported 200 inmates tested positive, including 18 deaths.
17 July. The authorities revealed that 15 inmates died from the virus. The previous reports, two weeks before, counted 11 deaths. Of the 201 positive cases, 197 were men and 4 were women. As of then, 108 cases had received treatment and were resolved.
14 July. The authorities reported that 20 inmates tested positive in the Mariscal Zavala prison.
12 July. The authorities confirmed the death of an inmate in the Mariscal Zavala prison.
4 July. The Supreme Court of Justice freed 140 prisoners under early release following pressure from the High Commissioner of the United Nations.
18 June. Authorities reported eight deaths among prisoners. They stated that the prisoners suffered from other illnesses and displayed vulnerabilities.
15 June. The Ministry of Health announced 91 positive cases among inmates after 170 tests in two of the country’s institutions. They were all transferred to the prison of Fraijanes II.
10 June. The authorities reported 10 cases in prisons across the country. The reports of the National Office against Torture (Oficina Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura) reported 51 contaminated detainees in addition to five reported deaths.
9 June. The Ministry of Health confirmed the presence of 51 positive cases in sector I of the Centro de Detención Preventiva in zone 18.
6 June. The ViceMinister of Health said that eight people among prisoners and staff had tested positive in a prison in Zone 18 after about 20 tests had been carried out. 534 people in Area 11 and 65 in the “El Hospitalito” area had been placed in quarantine.
5 June. The Ministry of Health confirmed the deaths of two prisoners in the Preventive Detention Centre in Zone 18 following their transfer to hospital.
29 May. A prisoner at the Centro Preventivo died because of COVID-19. The Ministry of Health did not provide any information on testing campaigns. There were 4 555 inmates in a prison with 1 500 places.
28 May. The Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos (PDH) reported that two female prisoners tested positive in the Fraijanes I prison. Two other cases were reported, one in the de la Torre de Tribunales prison and the other in Quetzaltenango prison.
23 May. A prisoner tested positive at Fraijanes II prison, managed by the national police in Quetzaltenango. The authorities announced they would transfer the prisoner and reinforce sanitary measures. They further declared that no other cases had been reported in the prisons governed by prison authorities.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 290
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
26 September. Authorities have not opened any investigation into the contamination of more than one hundred inmates in the prison of Lusignan. The director of prisons explained that the virus could have entered the prison in several ways.
August 23. The Minister of Home Affairs and the prison administration expressed concern about the unsatisfactory conditions of detention at Lusignan prison. Several measures have been introduced, including a construction project to build additional premises to allow physical distancing.
18 November. Authorities released 65 prisoners who had been condemned for so-called minor offences.
7 April. Prisoners with a remaining sentence of less than one month were released. The administration announced the upcoming release of prisoners suffering from chronic illnesses.
Acts of protest
20 September. A riot broke out in Lusignan prison. Inmates were protesting the long delays between trials and overcrowding. They worried about becoming infected after two inmates tested positive. Some tried to escape at the same time. Guards fired at seven of them, two were killed, and five were sent to hospital.
18 November. Authorities reported that more than 290 inmates tested positive in Lusignan prison in October.
22 September. The number of inmates who tested positive increased to 140 at Lusignan prison, after discovering the first two positive cases.
15 September. Two inmates at Lusignan prison, tested positive. The prison director said that anyone exhibiting symptoms would be followed up and examined.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 70
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
5 June. The agency Caricom Impacs reported the extreme overcrowding in the country’s prisons. They additionally responded to the “urgent request for assistance” from the authorities and donated sanitary equipment.
27 May. The Haitian ombudsman (Protecteur du citoyen et de la citoyenne) believed that the authorities were downplaying the crisis and deplored the inaction that was causing the virus to spread throughout the country’s prisons. Dozens of prisoners with the symptoms were unable to get tested. The ombudsman was afraid that hundreds of prisoners might die.
22 May. The head of the prison administration announced that a testing scheme of staff and inmates would be implemented after it was discovered that several people in the system were contaminated. The tests were carried out progressively on groups of 50 people. The Port-au-Prince prison currently has an overpopulation of 3 600 detainees despite being built to accommodate 778. Certain cells designed for under 20 people are sometimes packed with up to four times as many. Owing to the overpopulation and sanitary conditions, concerns are being voiced about the possibility of rapid propagation inside the prison.
12 May. The prison administration announced extensive actions for raising-awareness, preventive equipment provisions and arrangements for cleaning the premises. Four penal establishments would be set up as care centers for infected prisoners.
2 July. The Prime Minister requested the temporary suspension of 415 early releases after questions about the list of persons concerned were raised.
23 June. The President pardoned 415 prisoners to reduce overcrowding in prisons. Before that, only 800 people had been released. The decision was taken after strong criticism was raised about there being no adequate sanitary conditions in the country’s prisons.
8 April. The prison administration formulated a list of 600 people to be released among the condemned. A second list concerning the defendants should follow quickly. Remand prisoners represented three-quarters of the 11 300 prisoners in the country, with pre-trial detention periods frequently exceeding the legal deadlines. The director of the prison administration denounced that some had remained imprisoned for five or six years whereas their sentence should not have exceeded one year.
Contact with the outside world
27 June. Prisoners suffered from malnutrition following a ban on family visits. Without the support of relatives, prisoners had an insufficient diet. The prison administration recorded at least 5 deaths from malnutrition.
Appeals et recommendations
8 April. An activist from the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) alerted on the risk of “facing a calamity”. He indicated that overcrowding reached 380% in some facilities. Cells held up to 80 prisoners instead of the 10 to 20 anticipated. She reported that these “were poorly lit and unventilated”.
The prison administration was alarmed by the lack of masks for the prison staff and outside workers.
5 April. Civil society representatives worried about the risk of prisoners incarcerated in the overcrowded prisons of the country spreading the disease.
24 March. Courts and prisons are unsanitary. Announced measures are impossible to implement according to the Bars Federation of Haiti (FBH) in the context of the pandemic. It warned about the “silence of the authorities regarding the fate of the prisoners crammed together in overpopulated cells and suffering, many, from malnutrition.” Loved ones manage less and less to supply necessary provisions to prisoners. FBH is calling for the planning of special hearings to release those imprisoned for misdemeanors.
27 June. The prison administration authorities listed 70 positive cases and 332 suspected cases. To date, 210 tests were reported to have been carried out.
10 June. The administrative health department confirmed the presence of 12 positive cases in the Jérémie prison.
2 June. Local organizations announced that at least two prisoners died at the National Penitentiary. The previous week, the administrative director declared that the situation was “under control”.
28 May. A sick prisoner put on a respirator died in the Port-au-Prince prison, following a power outage. The prisoner’s death led to a panic situation inside the prison. The head of the prison reported that there were 11 cases in this prison.
22 May. Authorities carried out tests on 12 detainees at the Port-au-Prince prison. Eleven detainees were declared positive. About fifty other detainees showed symptoms.
12 May. The head of the prison administration announced that they did not identify any positive cases in prisons despite the spread of the virus in the country. He refused the rumors, saying that the death of a 61-year-old detainee in April was caused by other pathologies. However, the Inspector General noted several cases of fever among the detainees. The prison administration was awaiting the test results carried out by a team from the Ministry of Public Health.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
19 June. The prison authorities started carrying out tests at Penitenciara Nacional prison, before which 122 inmates had tested positive.
21 May. According to a survey, prisoners who had been in contact with contaminated inmates were not tested or given other forms of medical care. Only 22 tests had apparently been carried out in the El Pozo and Tamara prisons. Inmates who had tested positive had been in contact with over 7 000 people. While the National Penitentiary Institute (INP) wished to be reassuring by highlighting its “biosecurity protocol”, there are concerns about how detention conditions and overpopulation could multiply the contagion risks in national establishments.
16 May. An association for the relatives of prisoners said that the masks given by the Honduran Red Cross had not been distributed to prisoners in Marco Aurelio Soto prison. Moreover, it deplored the lack of running water, which prevented prisoners from washing their hands.
14 May. A testimony reported the conditions of detention at La Esperanza prison during the pandemic. It had 454 detainees for 70 places, which gathered up to 130 prisoners in a single cell. The access to water was difficult and inmates shared a single bathroom. Respiratory diseases were common due to the nights on temporary beds exposed to the breeze. Some doctors feared that the current situation had a significant impact on the mental health of the prisoners. Concerns were rising about the devastation that the virus could cause if it spread through the prisons, which remained relatively unaffected so far. The prison facilities in the country have an overall overpopulation of 220%.
28 July. More than 80 000 court appearances, 70 % of which were for criminal hearings, were put on hold since the onset of the pandemic.
6 July. Since the beginning of the pandemic, The Supreme Court of Justice has granted early release to over 1 500 people.
16 June. Authorities announced the early release of 1 642 prisoners. A series of measures facilitated the granting of conditional release or commutation of sentences.
15 June. The government announced that at least 1 600 inmates were granted early release.
Contact with the outside world
14 May. The prison of La Esperanza disposed three phones for 454 inmates at a prohibitive rate.
12 March. The government declared a sanitary state of emergency. All visits were suspended. Correctional staff and prisoners receive protective masks when they are taken out for health care or to court.
Appeals and recommendations
18 June. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights urged authorities to take all measures necessary to guarantee the rights of prisoners. They expressed particular concern about the lack of transparency in information regarding the testing campaigns carried out within facilities. The release and confinement measures were the subject of concern. The High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) revealed similar concerns.
16 May An association for the relatives of prisoners requested that prison authorities provide masks and sanitiser to all those deprived of freedom in Honduras.
15 June. Human rights organizations demanded humanitarian intervention in the Tamara prison and awareness of the authorities. They denounced the inadequacy of the prison health system.
Acts of protest
29 July. Twenty-two asymptomatic inmates protested against their transfer from the Marisca Zavala prison to the Fraijanes 2 prison. The authorities gave in to their demand to self-isolate in their current facility.
22 July. Prisoners at the Tamara facility staged an uprising. They attacked the military who were serving as prison security guards with automatic rifles and grenades, killing one soldier. Some twenty arms and marijuana were seized during an inspection.
29 July. Out of 2,114 tests performed in the country’s various prisons, 1 084 people turned out positive for the virus of which 902 were inmates.
27 July. More than 21 inmates tested positive in the Santa Rosa de Copán prison.
19 July. A female inmate at the Tegucigalpa prison died. An inquiry would be held to determine the cause. The authorities reported that 1 143 tests were performed. Two-hundred and eighty-three turned out positive.
6 July. 36 individuals from the Trujillo prison tested positive : 14 prisoners and 21 guards.
The president of the Human Rights Committee announced that at least 2 500 prisoners had been infected with the virus, and 16 had died. At least 1 000 were located in the Tamara prison.
29 June. The National Penitentiary Institute stated that the 80 inmates who contracted the virus in Tamara prison were asymptomatic. There were 228 people, staff and inmates combined, reported to be infected in the country’s eleven facilities. The increased spread of other diseases made identification difficult. Authorities were intervening to detect cases of HIV, dengue and tuberculosis.
17 June. The representative of the Committee for the protection of human rights declared that the prisons of the country had amassed at least 300 positive cases. This claim was formally denied by the authorities who argued they had registered only 122 cases and one death.
15 June. The President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights urged the authorities to take the necessary measures to avoid a tragedy in the Marco Aurelio Soto prison. At least 1 000 inmates were reported to have symptoms, some of them in critical condition.
12 June. It was reported that 120 inmates tested positive at the Tamara prison.
10 June. The Sistema Nacional de Gestión de Riesgos (National risks management system, Sinager) reported that at least 121 detainees tested positive at thePenitenciaria Nacional in Tamara, near Tegucigalpa. This facility held 32% of the country’s prisoners. There were additionally three cases at the El Porvenir facility and one case at El Pozo. At least three new people were believed to have died from COVID-19, but the authorities attributed this to other illnesses.
6 june. The prison authorities reported 65 positive cases at the Penitenciaría Nacional which is located near Tegucigalpa. Families mentioned that more than 800 inmates had symptoms. Authorities attributed these symptoms to the dengue or flu epidemics.
29 May. The authorities reported 30 positive prisoners. Twenty-eight of them were in the Penitenciarío Nacional.
19 May. An inmate tested positive at the prison of El Porvenir. Authorities said no new entry into the prison until further notice.
16 May. The authorities confirmed one positive case at Marco Aurelio Soto prison, located in the village of Tamara. The prisoner had been placed in isolation and authorities announced that they had conducted 80 tests on the other inmates and prison staff. It was the second confirmed case in the country’s prisons following the death of a prisoner at El Pozo prison.
Confirmed cases amongst inmates: 2
19 May. The authorities listed two positive cases in the prison of Northward. The prison administration announced that they would isolate certain sections to prevent any further spread. Detainees and staff were still awaiting the results of their screening tests.
21 April. Northward Prison Director announced repatriation of four foreign nationals to reduce prison overcrowding. Fourteen prisoners were already released at the end of March, including six from the (Enhanced Reintegration Unit). Other releases were planned.
17 March. All visits are suspended for 30 days, except visits from lawyers and law enforcement personnel under certain conditions. Two prisons in the country have put in place isolation zones. Prison authorities are implementing strict hygiene guidelines and imposing restrictions on prisoners’ movements. Other measures are being contemplated including restricting staff presence, a reduction in the number of internal activities and the implementation of alternatives aiming at maintaining contact with close relations.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 7
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
24 September. Authorities confirmed the presence of cases among inmates at the prison in Kingston. Movement within the prison is restricted, and one section has been designated to serve as a quarantine area. An inmate expressed the lack of equipment, medical supplies, and personal protection.
31 August. Authorities have not made mask wearing mandatory despite the resurgence of cases in one prison. The head of Stand up for Jamaica criticized this decision in light of the ongoing overcrowding which makes physical distancing impossible.
23 April. Various detainees received, in prison, health training with the objective to ensure a preventive role towards the pandemic. Since the medical staff was not continuously present in prisons, these existing “health auxiliaries” would have to escort fellow prisoners to the isolation wings. They were trained to do so without exposing themselves to contagion. The training also covered the procedures for wearing masks, disinfecting hands and taking temperatures.
29 March. The Department of Prison Services (DCS) isolated, for a period of 14 days, any detainee or warden who had to move between the prison and the outside for medical appointment, escort, hearing, etc. People with fever are likely to be quarantined. Staff were to be subjected to medical examinations and decontamination measures. They were required to wear their uniforms only within the prisons and are to maintain a distance of one meter between them and any other individual.
Detainees have been vigorously cleaning their cells since the virus first emerged, according to a supervisor. Some prisoners had to deal with problematic hygienic standards, for example, cells still have only buckets for the collection of excrement.
Two detainees were placed in solitary confinement after developing flu symptoms. They tested negative for COVID-19 but are expected to finish their quarantine period. The inmates and prison guards of St Catherine and Tower Street expressed their great concern.
Contact with the outside world
22 April. The visitation suspensionwas extended until 31 May. Prisoners would have a flexible call schedule to maintain contact with their loved ones. The use of videoconferencing was also implemented. The Department of Prison Services (DCS) “continue[d] to provide meals for detainees”, and recalled that relatives could deposit up to 132 euros per month in the prisoners’ accounts. The judicial authorities suspended the authorization to bring parcels to prevent the risk of contamination.
29 March. Tours were suspended. Contact remains possible only by telephone, and relatives were allowed to deposit up to € 130 per month in the detainees’ personal account.
31 August. The government continued to oppose the release of “low risk “ prisoners in overcrowded establishments. Organizations like Stand up for Jamaica point out the health risk of such a decision, especially with regard to contracting the disease, as well as the psychological effects on inmates who have been isolated from the outside world for several months.
Calls and recommendations
29 March. The Queen’s counsel, renowned lawyers, called for the release of certain prisoners, accompanied by isolation in a hospital. Human rights groups expressed the same request.
10 November. Authorities reported that there have been 96 positive cases among inmates and staff since the pandemic started.
22 September. Two inmates tested positive at Tower Street prison, inKingston. Five other infected inmates were identified at Horizon prison several weeks earlier.
31 August. Four prisoners tested positive in Horizon prison of Kingston were placed in quarantine. The prison has stopped admitting new arrivals.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
26 November. A delegation from the Human Rights Commission (CNDH) of Mexico City reported that it had received a total of 221 complaints since the start of the pandemic over the lack of medical care and treatment for other diseases, such as HIV/AIDS. The AsiLegal organisation said COVID-19 is highlighting the problems that have been existing for a long time in the health services of the country’s prison system.
7 July. The CNDH declared that care provisions were insufficient. The prisons were overpopulated, the installations unsafe, and there was no access to clean water. The Commission noted that there was a lack of medical staff and medicine.
The National Human Rights Commission made public reports detailing the health measures taken in each state of the country. The measures, including the number of tests carried out, were very uneven. Some states did not carry out tests or did not report the number of tests. The state of Chihuahua claimed to have conducted more than 5 000 tests since the beginning of the pandemic.
6 June. The Commission on Human Rights reported the problematic conditions of detention: overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and even inaccessibility to health care. One out of two prisoners would share their cell with at least five fellow prisoners and 30% would not have access to drinking water in the cell. Only 8% would receive hygienic products.
27 May. The Puebla State governor announced that a new prison would be set up strictly for the 52 prisoners who tested positive in the region. Its capacity could be increased from 150 to 280 places.
18 May. President of the State of Mexico Human Rights Commission reported that more than 200 prisoners suspected of being carriers had been isolated from the general population. Among them, a majority were new arrivals, systematically isolated for 14 days.
14 May. The relatives of detainees reported several cases of people with symptoms who were neither isolated nor tested. The director of the Reinserta association denounced the inability of implementing social distancing, requested by the authorities, when 16m² cells bring together more than 40 people.
9 May. José Luis, Director of Legal Aid for Human Rights, published a virulent criticism on the state of overcrowding in Mexican prisons and in particular those of Acapulco or Chilpancingo: “there are up to 10 or 15 people sleeping in a single cell, how do you isolate someone “. He also denounced a general failure of health services in detention, especially in the prison of Guerrero.
7 May. Several experts and associations alerted on the lack of confinement and denounce the endangerment of those imprisoned in a debate entitled “Las cárceles: una bomba de tiempo en la contingencia”. The detainees’ dependence on parcels brought by their families, particularly food, prevented effective confinement of the facilities. The health emergency has been aggravated by the lack of hygiene and protective equipment making people fear, in the long term, massive contagions and riots which could lead to the death of prisoners.
13 April. The federal government established an action plan to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the 18 federal social reintegration centers (Cefereso). More than 17 000 people were detained there, representing 8.4% of the prison population.
11 April. “We decided not to visit him to avoid the risk of contagion” testified Mónica, wife of a 58 year old prisoner suffering from diabetes, in the Seguridad penitenciaria 1 facility. “He was given no information about the COVID-19, and nothing to protect him either. We were able to bring him a liter of chlorine, but that is not enough. Neither the government nor the society care about the survival of detainees.”
2 April. The prisons of Mexico City did not have the necessary health facilities to treat patients of COVID-19. The supplementary products brought by visitors increased the risk of contamination from the environment.
31 March. Promiscuity and deplorable health conditions have worsened preventive measures. Almost half of the prisoners are held in collective cells (more than five people). The prison population comprises 11.2% of inmates older than 50. A third has no access to drinking water.
26 March. The penal administration announced the implementation of enhanced hygiene and disinfection measures.
Prisoners are making masks in many prisons of the country, from Reclusorio Norte to Mexico City. A portion of these is destined for the inmates.
15 December. The prison population increased by 7% (13,840 people) during the ten months of the health crisis. Overcrowding is worsening, with more than 40% of prison facilities being overpopulated. This increase is reportedly due to the rise in the number of untried prisoners. They represented 37% of the prison population in December 2019, and 42% (or 90,000 people) in October 2020.
5 May. The Ministry of the Interior firmly enjoined States not to resort to prison sentences for crimes linked to the coronavirus. Sentences of two to five years, announced by the State of Queretaro, were denounced by the Ministry because they were “disproportionate, possibly unconstitutional and discriminated against the poor”.
13 April. A four-year prison sentence was pronounced by videoconference. This was the first time that this remote judgment device was implemented. The announcement was made the previous Monday by the president of the judiciary of Coahuila.
22 October. The AsiLEGAL NGO reported 3,760 releases since the onset of the pandemic. Most of the individuals released were incarcerated in the State of Mexico facilities (2,583).
1 September. Authorities announced that between March and July, 415 elderly inmates of the Ciudad de México prisons were released. Those released were suffering from chronic degenerative or terminal illnesses.
7 July. The amnesty law would have benefited only 100 to 150 prisoners, according to a report published by the National Human Rights Commission.
6 June. Human Rights Watch deemed the amnesty law as “insufficient”. The organization requested the government, federal prosecutors and state governments to use all of the powers vested in them by the Mexican law to work with judges and reduce the number of prisoners. This law affected 2 to 3% of the 200 000 people incarcerated.
25 May. The president of AsílLegal said that it was regretable that early releases had stopped while the number of COVID-19 cases was rising.
14 May. The governor of the State of Mexico requested the release of 380 detainees. He stated he had a plan to release up to 4 000 people.
13 May. The NGO Asilegal listed 2 680 detainees who were granted early release
7 May. Experts from the Mexican prison system criticized the amnesty law, applied only in federal prisons. The majority of detainees affected by the offenses covered by this legislation were held in state prisons.
5 May. The government announced the release of 88 detainees, and 248 others in the coming weeks. He planned, following the adoption of the amnesty law on 20 April, to release more than 800 in the long term. Some 1 835 detainees had already benefited from an outside placement under electronic surveillance in the State of Mexico.
21 April. The federal lead for the reintegration policy announced that the number of people who could be released was up to “800 prisoners, that is to say less than the 2 600 calculated by the Senate”. Sentencing measures, including house arrest, could affect 400 additional prisoners, including some in custody. The prison administration requested the facilitation of these processes so that these measures could be implemented “within a few days”.
20 April. The Senate voted an amnesty law which could allow the release of 5 000 to 6 000 people detained for “minor crimes”, including “robbery without violence”, drug-related crimes outside the scope of distribution, and abortion, which has only been legal since 2007 (2019 in Oaxaca State). This measure was criticized for various reasons: the political opposition considers it dangerous, while the former Supreme Court judge considers it too timid. “It [would] concern few prisoners because these are federal sentences. Local states [would] then decide for the others.”
The government announced the early release of 400 prisoners over the age of 65.
18 April. The State of Mexico liberated 1 972 prisoners.
20 March. Judicial and administrative activities were suspended until April 20, except for many specialized courses. Judges will work under a rotation system to handle high-priority cases.
Contact with the outside world
29 August. The development of televised classes and online learning has allowed for the evolution of an unprecedented way of accessing courses for women in prison. In the past, access to courses was hampered by travel logistics for the teachers and complex security issues. “Plan B” Foundation has set-up a website which allows professionals wishing to share their knowledge with inmates to subscribe.
17 June. The Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública) announced that visits were permitted once more in the Rehabilitation Centres (Centros de Reinserción Social) of Quintana Roo. Certain sanitary provisions were put in place. Minors and the elderly were excluded from visits.
11 June. The State of Jalisco suspended visits. Videoconference calls would be possible every 15 days to ensure that family ties were maintained. Some calls could last only a few minutes.
13 May. Relatives of detainees barged into Chalco of the State of Mexico by overturning a fence. They asked for information following scuffles between ten detainees. This event is explained by the constant concerns of families since the introduction of restrictive measures linked to the epidemic.
11 May. Inmates at Santa Martha Women’s Prison requested the care of their children outside the establishment. A dozen children had already benefited from it. Some women did not have relatives who can take care of them. The Reinserta association suggested that these children should be transferred to Centro de Prevención Social Federal (CPS 16) in Morelos.
26 March. Visits were reduced in half and are taking place alternately. Vulnerable people are no longer admitted for visits. A health assessment with temperature-taking has been set at visitors’ arrival. Visits were fully suspended in some federal institutions. Inmates depend on their loved ones for their basic needs (food, drinking water, hygiene and cleaning products, antibacterial products, etc.).
18 March. The prison administration published a prevention plan for prisoners, correctional staff and visitors. The recommendations include taking the temperature and isolating those presenting fever symptoms, washing hands, using antibacterial gel and protective masks. The measures provide for an increased access to hygiene facilities and the dissemination of sanitary awareness raising information. Detainees who are sick with no need of being transferred to an hospital will be assigned in isolation areas. Visits are limited to one visitor at a time per prisoner. Visitors who are younger than 12 years old or older than 60 are not admitted. Visits were suspended for old or vulnerable prisoners.
Acts of protest
23 July. Inmates at the Altiplano high security prison demonstrated against the decision to suspend conjugal visits. They staged a hunger strike two weeks before to denounce the way the facility is managed, namely in the distribution of tainted food, lack of prisoner access to water and the banning of receiving medication from the outside.
10 June. Detainees from San Cristóbal held a hunger strike for several weeks to protest against the lack of access to health care and hygienic products. They were concerned about the lack of information from the prison administration regarding the epidemic. This opacity aggravated the tensions in detention, as prisoners had “the feeling that death surrounded them”.
22 May. Authorities confirmed that a violent clash had taken place in the Puente Grande complex, in the central state of Jalisco, leaving eight inmates dead and another eight hospitalized with injuries. The NGO AsíLegal attributed this event to the tensions related to the spread of the virus in national prisons.
12 May. The NGO AsiLEGAL affirmed that riots in the Centro Preventivo of Readaptación Social Huitzilzingo in Chalco and in the Centro de Reinserción Social of Colima resulted in the death of three detainees and 29 injured. The NGO counted nine incidents of this type since the beginning of the pandemic.
31 March. Riots are breaking out in many prisons. The Fair Trials association explained that they result from contagion, as well as loved ones’ concern and their difficulty to provide essential products.
Appeals and recommendations
17 July. The International Red Cross Committee (IRCC) believed that there was not enough being done to prevent the spread of the virus. It called on the government to reduce the number of prisoners and to reduce their sentences.
18 June. The NGO AsiLEGAL announced its concern about the new national measures preparing for a “return to normal”. They recalled the catastrophic situation in prison facilities, the increase in the number of cases and the insufficient number of early releases. They insisted on the impossibility of reconciling the current health situation and of the “old normal”. The organisation advocated for a “new horizon for prisons where social reintegration ceases to be a utopian idea and becomes a reality”.
8 June. The federal government seeked to accelerate the early releases of persons over 65 years of age who had served 70% of their sentence and those over 60 years of age who had committed minor offenses.
14 May. The NGO AsiLEGAL denounced a general misinformation around the pandemic in the country’s prisons as well as the lack of early releases. They explained the concerns and riots that this created, posing risks for the detainees. The NGO called for more transparency and an acceleration of the early release process.
Other associations like Reinserta called a paradigm shift for penal repression in Mexico.
7 May. EQUIS Justicia para las Mujeres published a report denouncing a lack of consideration of the judicial authorities with regard to the conditions of detention. The NGO recommended certain measures such as early releases. It urged the authorities to recognize the risks of contagion inherent in life in prison and to act accordingly.
12 April. The majority of the 200 000 detainees were endangered due to the conditions of detention and the inadequacy of the measures taken, according to the recent report from the CNDH. More than one in ten prisoners must share their bed due to overcrowding. A third of them did not have access to drinking water in their cells.
27 March. The Alerta Temprana network addressed an urgent plea to national and international authorities to respect the Nelson Mandela rules. They demanded that house arrest be granted for certain categories of prisoners (political prisoners, those eligible for early release, those not considered criminally liable) and the release of those most vulnerable (elderly prisoners and those suffering from chronic illness or degenerative disease). The network recommended facilitating access to health services and the availability of necessary equipment.
18 March. Many voices have been raised to call for measures. The National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) and 14 civil society organizations issued recommendations: to give up detention for nonviolent crimes, to limit the use of remand in custody, to release elderly or vulnerable, inmates and to implement preventive and protective measures, among others.
8 December. A total of 3,289 inmates tested positive and at least 272 have died as a result of COVID-19.
26 November. Fifty-nine inmates in Mexico City died from COVID-19 since March.
30 September. The number of inmates who tested positive reached 2,926. Two-hundred and sixty-one have died. A total of 429 staff members have become infected and 65 have died.
25 September. In the state of Baja California, La Paz prison counted 21 positive inmates. Authorities mentioned that the infected inmates were isolated and in stable condition, and that their families have been notified.
18 August. The number of people who have died in prison in 2020 is 464, compared to the 191 that died in the same period the previous year. According to several human rights organisations, this increase is directly due to the pandemic. ASILEGAL reported the death of 215 prisoners for COVID-19. A total of 2,498 prisoners tested positive. The NGO Documenta denounced the lack of transparency in the prison system. It offers a summary table of preventive measures by institution.
25 July. The number of inmates who died from COVID-19 tripled since mid-July according to the PRD (Party of the Revolution Democracy) parliamentary group. The group accused the federal government of abandoning the prison population and called on it to come up with a strategy to prevent transmissions and avoid further deaths.
13 July. The authorities reported 73 cases in the prisons of the Ciudad de México State. There were 54 deaths.
9 July. The AsiLegal NGO counted over 1,000 positive cases in the country’s prisons. Among these were 939 inmates.
5 July. The CNDH (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos) announced that there had been 106 deaths among prisoners since the beginning of the pandemic. The prisoners infected numbered 686. The majority were located in the State of Puebla, with 195 cases.
1 July. The number of deaths recorded in the country’s prisons had increased by 500% since the start of the epidemic. There had been a 214% increase between April and June.
24 June. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) confirmed the deaths of 5 prisoners in the penitentiary centre of Huimanguillo in Tabasco state.
22 June. In the state of Hidalgo, 12 cases have been listed in the three Cereso centres. They were placed in quarantine, and two were hospitalised. The organisation AsiLEGAL reported 638 cases and 79 deaths among prisoners on a national level.
15 June. The secretariat of the government of the State of Puebla recorded eight dead prisoners and 144 positive cases, 10 of which were hospitalized in the San Miguel prison. At the national level, the NGO AsilLEGAL counted 512 cases and 46 deaths among inmates.
11 June. The State of Jalisco reported 95 cases and six deaths among the inmates of the Puente Grande prison.
9 June. The NGO AsiLEGAL reported 422 positive cases and 36 deaths in the country’s prisons.
3 June. The NGO AsiLEGAL counted 372 positive cases and 34 deaths. The president of the Réinserta association denouncedthe lack of official monitoring for the contaminated detainees. The lack of visibility on the sick or deceased people has led to the poor management of the epidemic in prisons.
1 June. NGOs deplored the particularly worrisome increase in the number of cases in the country’s prisons during the previous week. The AsilLEGAL organization counted more than 326 positive prisoners and 31 deaths.
25 May. The NGO AsílLegal counted 211 positive cases and 29 deaths among national inmates. The organization was concerned that the real number of cases may be significantly higher.
20 May. The follow-up carried out by Asilegal listed 141 positive cases and 22 deaths among prisoners.
19 May. While local authorities remained silent, the National Commission for Human Rights reported that at least three detainees had died as a result of the epidemic in prisons in the state of Tabasco. The NGO listed at least 120 positive cases, 21 deaths and 74 suspected cases in prisons across the country.
15 May. Civil society organizations questioned the official figures and claimed that the pandemic had a much greater impact on prisons.
12 May. The Mexican Human Rights Commission confirmed 100 cases of detainees who tested positive and 79 suspected cases. In addition, nine deaths were recorded.
A detainee tested positive, the first in the Centro de Reinserción Social (CERESO) in León. Authorities reported that sanitary containment measures have been installed inside and outside the facility.
7 May. Experts and activists presented their doubts about the official figures for infections in the country’s prisons with regard to overcrowding and continued visits. They suspected the concealment of at least 92 cases.
21 April. Less than 10 cases would have been confirmed in the states of Mexico, Yucatan and Jalisco. Prison authorities mentioned the presence of 150 suspected cases in the country. None of the suspected cases were identified in federal prisons, the least populated high security prisons.
20 April. It was reported that six prisoners tested positive for COVID-19 in the states of Mexico and Yucatan. The Mexican Commission for the Defense of Human Rights (CNDH) was alarmed by the presence of 24 suspected cases in a Tamaulipas establishment, as it had significant overcrowding.
12 April. The authorities declared a new case in the establishment of Mérida in Yucatán. The 60-year-old inmate exhibited mild symptoms and was medically monitored in an area separate from the other inmates.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 9; Deceased prisoners: 9
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
9 September. Celia Cruz, a trans activist from the Ometepe Island, testified about her detention conditions. She was being held in a small cell, with six men, without food, water or medicine. No protective measures against the spread of COVID-19 were in place. Cruz’s lawyer criticised the authorities for not handling the pandemic: “COVID-19 was being used as a weapon against imprisoned activists. Many prisoners have been infected with the virus due to the negligence of the authorities, the overpopulation and the lack of potable water. They have not been tested, so there is no proof, but the prisons have been affected by this pandemic”.
13 July. The authorities announced the receipt of a second donation of drugs from India to fight the pandemic.
28 June. One prisoner reported that the prison authorities of La Modelo were spraying the cells with phytosanitary products every day and taking the temperature and photograph of inmates. “There are no medical consultations, let alone medication. Food is rationed.”, said a political prisoner.
6 June. Inmates reported their daily life during the pandemic within the prisonJorge Navarro. In 10 weeks, they received only one medical visit and two tanks of water a day. Access to hygiene products were limited. Visits were still suspended, and the detention areas did not interreact. One wing had been reserved for prisoners with symptoms. Some had adopted individual preventive measures by cleaning the premises or implementing social distance. The arrival of the rainy season could favor the epidemic.
8 May. The Alianza Cívica criticised the lack of information from authorities amid overpopulation and the absence of real health measures raising fears of a fast spread of the virus. They reported many inmates showing different symptoms, such as respiratory problems.
5 May. Penitentiary officials commended the measures taken to stop the spread of the virus. These include temperature readings, visitor handwashing, parcel and shoe disinfection, and the use of audiovisual media to promote preventive care, among others. Institutions could also benefit from medical staff being able to provide care 24/7.
8 May. Amnesty International reported that about a dozen political prisoners were showing symptoms. They were being held in overcrowded conditions and had no access to adequate healthcare. Some had already suffered from conditions that could make them particularly vulnerable.
11 March. Vice President Rosario Murillo announced that a “special plan” for the country’s penitentiary systems would soon be published. Health specialists are worried that nothing has yet been set up, fearing that the coronavirus wreaks havoc in the country’s prisons.
4 August. The authorities released 4,515 prisoners between April and May and 1,605 in June. In mid-July, four political activists and dissidents were released.
5 June. The government released 42 Honduran prisoners from La Modelo high-security prison to fight the spread of the virus. They were expelled from the territory.
13 May. The Government announced the release of 2 815 detainees. The decision was made following a complaint from the relatives of detainees about the possible spread of the epidemic in prisons across the country. The international committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which assisted the authorities in managing the crisis, confirmed these releases. No political prisoner would be affected by this measure.
Contact with the outside world
19 May. Families of detainees reported to have learned of the closing of the prison La Modelo a Tipitapa when they were about to bring food. Authorities refused to deliver the packages and gave no explanation for the closure. Relatives were concerned about a quarantine linked to the appearance of new cases.
Acts of protest
29 May. A group of political prisoners started a hunger strike at the La Modelo prison. The prisoners asked to be released. The movement was backed by the prisoners’ families and several of the country’s prominent public figures.
Appeals and recommendations
4 August. Human rights defenders denounced the insufficient care of positive prisoners at COVID-19. They accused prison authorities of minimising symptoms reported by the prisoners: many were told that they had a cold or that their symptoms were psychological.
12 June. The Víctimas de Abril association reported “inhumane” prison conditions for the 86 political prisoners, 45 of whom were showing symptoms. The association accused the president of taking advantage of the pandemic to impose “biological warfare” on citizens protesting against the regime since 2018.
12 May. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Ortega Murillo regime to reduce prison overcrowding, particularly stressing the release of political prisoners.
Michael G. Kozak, a diplomat of the United States Department of State, informed of the spread of the virus at Nicaraguan prisons. He prompted the Ortega regime to take immediate action to combat the epidemic, and at the same time, asked for the release of political prisoners. Furthermore, he questioned the accuracy of the statistics published by the authorities.
11 May. The Nicaragua Bar Association proposed the early release of elderly or chronically-ill prisoners. This measure would benefit those held for misdemeanors, those having served much of their sentence, and remand prisoners.
12 May. At least nine inmates died from COVID-19.
A group of relatives of political prisoners pointed out that at least 23 of the inmates and an unknown number of them, in general, were showing symptoms at La Modelo.
The Víctimas de Abril (AVA) association reported the disappearance of a political prisoner, Uriel Pérez, who was showing symptoms. He was not present at his hearing.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
27 July. The Minister of the Interior deplored the lack of access to potable water in the prisons during this time of pandemic. She stated: “The lack of potable water is one of the greatest lacks in the country’s prisons (…) from now until the end of the year, all prisons will be equipped with potable water”.
24 June. The Regional Health Minister confirmed that measures had been taken to enforce a quarantine at Chiriqui prison, after 25 wardens had tested positive.
19 May. The prison administration announced a series of measures: each new arrival would be isolated for 14 days; positive detainees would also be isolated and transferred; provision of masks and sanitary equipment would be planned; disinfection of premises and medical assistance, including tests, would be implemented in coordination with the health authorities.
12 May. Minister Janina Tewaney ensured that strict measures were being taken to prevent the spread of the virus. A member of the advisory committee of the Department of Health expressed concern about the high risk of contagion at Panamanian penitentiaries because of overcrowding, limited space, lack of ventilation, and scarcity of water. These factors were aggravated by the prevalence of malnutrition, smoking, alcoholism, and depression.
7 May. After a visit to the Centro Femenino de Rehabilitación, Human Rights Defender Víctor Beker stated that the isolation zones and applied measures at the institution were respecting human rights and meeting the recommended hygiene and sanitisation standards.
10 June. The sentences of 24 detainees were reduced following a “humanitarian” measure. 253 common law prisoners were granted early release.
12 May. The president granted remission to nearly 200 prisoners. The penitentiary system still accounted for more than 18 393 inmates for a national capacity of 14 591 places.
Contact with the outside world
3 June. The prison administration provided the establishment with videoconferences in order to facilitate the communications between detainees and their lawyers. Some rejected this method, fearing that it could not guarantee a confidential communication.
Acts of protest
23 June. A riot broke out at the Ciudad del este correctional facility, demanding tests to be carried out. Currently, three positive cases have been registered in the facility, including two guards and one prisoner.
Appeals et recommendations
1 June. Human Rights Watch urged authorities to include prisoners in the national response to the pandemic, to expand access to measures of prevention, detection and care. This appeal especially emphasized the release of those in custody.
5 June. The head of the legal department of the Defensoria del Pueblo announced his concern about the overcrowding in various facilities, including the one of Santiago.
29 May. The president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on the country’s authorities to implement urgent measures to address the large increase in the number of cases throughout the country’s prisons. She insisted on the importance of preventing overcrowding by asking the courts to put a limit on the use of pre-trial custody.
10 November. A new cluster was identified at Penonome prison, in the province of Cocle. At least 390 inmates tested positive, or 75 % of the prison population. No positive cases were detected among prison staff. Kits containing masks, oxygen meters and pain killers were handed out to ill inmates.
Six inmates have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic started.
18 July. The authorities announced that two inmates died after they were transferred to hospital.
16 July. Four young inmates from the Aurelio Granados de Chiriqui Centre were declared positive.
6 July. The prison authorities stated that 266 prisoners were currently infected with COVID-19 in the entire country including 128 persons in the Chiriqui prison.
A press briefing listed the positive cases in the prisons of the country : Chiriqui (128 active cases), La Joya (41), Cefere (34), La Joyita (21), Bocas del Toro (19), Transicion La Chorrera (13), Tinajita (6) and La Nueva Joya (6).
29 June. Authorities reported that 88 prisoners tested positive in Chiriqui prison. They maintained that they were performing daily tests and isolating patients with chronic diseases.
20 June. The prison service reported that 105 people had tested positive throughout the country. In total, 734 were said to have recovered. Most of those infected were from La Nueva Joya prison.
16 June. The prison administration announced that among the 815 prisoners who had tested positive in the five prisons of the country, 703 were in recovery. The majority of those who were still manifesting symptoms were imprisoned in La Joya.
9 June. The authorities reported the remission of 501 detainees.
5 June. The authorities reported that more than 700 prisoners had been positive.
2 June. Prison administration announced the first death of a prisoner due to COVID-19 in the Santiagos prison at Veraguas. The number of cases in Nueva Joya prison reached 228. The country’s prisons had then a total of 664 prisoners who tested positive.
29 May. Health authorities reported a large increase in the number of cases throughout the country’s prisons. More than 333 inmates tested positive in the Santiago prison in Varagas. This represented more than two-thirds of the facility’s population, which was initially intended to hold 150 people. The number of cases identified in the Nueva Joya in Pacorawas 48. The country had then 503 prisoners who tested positive. The Ministry of Health’s consultative committee blamed this sudden increase in the number of cases to overcrowding conditions which prevented physical distancing.
25 May. The Ministry of Health announced that 15 inmates of the Nueva Esperanza prison had been cured.
20 May. The first case of COVID-19 was detected in the La Nueva Joyaprison. New detainees have also tested positive in the Santiago prison. Authorities confirmed that there were 133 cases in national prisons and said that they were guaranteeing access to treatment and necessary sanitary measures “in order to preserve the lives and health of the imprisoned population”.
19 May. The prison administration announced that they had detected three new cases in Santiago prison in Veraguas.
12 May. The prison of Nueva Esperanza de Colón had 26 positive cases among prisoners. They were added to those from the Centro Femenino de Rehabilitación, with a total of 117 infected inmates. Eleven warders also tested positive at three penitentiaries.
15 April. Official sources reported six confirmed cases among prisoners in the country, five of which in Nueva Esperanza prison in Colón. Prisoners who tested positive for coronavirus were transferred to a former youth facility at Basilio Lakas.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
7 September. A staff member at Concepción prison tested positive. Authorities announced that the health protocol would remain in place and is monitoring for the signs of possible symptoms in inmates.
Contact with the outside world
31 May. The visits resumed in all prisons and educational centers in the country. Visitors followed a health protocol by making an appointment in advance, presenting their identity card, filling out a health questionnaire, wearing a mask, and hand washing. Certain types of visitors were still excluded: people over 65, pregnant women, those who breastfeed their children, and those with a temperature above 37.5°C.
To this date, no case of coronavirus in prisons had been identified.
Prisoners from seven institutions indicated that they wanted to extend the visitation suspension until at least 6 June (Tacumbú, Pedro Juan Caballero, Missiones, Buen Pasto, San Pedro, La Esperanza and Encarnación), in order to avoid any risk of contagion.
10 May. The minister of Justice considered the possibility of reinstating some visits. Following protests, she had been going to different facilities to listen to inmates’ demands. The minister reported that the main complaint involved the stay of procedures.
17 March. Visits were suspended in prisons and educational centers for minors until the end of the quarantine. On an exceptional case, workers may continue their work in detention. Measures were put in place, in collaboration with the police, to prevent the presence of the public in the vicinity of prison facilities. The Minister of Justice called for the understanding and patience of the relatives of detainees. She announced that, in order to “appease the spirits”, the prisons would organize sports championships, film screenings, karaoke, dance competitions and spiritual meetings.
Acts of protest
16 August. A group of inmates protested at Esperanza prison in Asunción, demanding that visits be resumed, that untried prisoners be processed and that health conditions be improved. They released a video showing them wearing masks and carrying batons. They demanded that their rights be respected and that prison staff be quarantined after one tested positive. The minister agreed to review the demands and to refer them to the appropriate institutions.
8 October. One inmate died from COVID-19 in the Pedro Juan prison where a total of 180 people (inmates and guards) tested positive.
1 September. For the first time, an inmate tested positive at Villarrica prison. A health protocol was initiated and all inmates in the same section have been quarantined in their cells.
19 August. Officials reported 142 positive cases at Tacumbú prison, 99 of whom were inmates. Some one hundred others were still waiting for their test results.
22 July. An inmate died as a result of COVID-19 at Ciudad del Este prison.
26 June. The Health Minister, Julio Mazzoleni, expressed his concern during a press conference over the spread of the virus in the Alto Paraná department on the border with Brazil, which he classed as the “most high-risk part of the country”. TheCiudad del Este prison was particularly affected. There were reportedly up to 140 infected prisoners and wardens.
25 June. Authorities were alarmed at a rapid spread of COVID-19 in the Ciudad del Este facility. At least 105 people tested positive (40 prisoners and 65 staff members). The Minister of Justice stated that most were asymptomatic. This prison was the most overcrowded in the country, with 1 100 prisoners in a facility that had a capacity of 500.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 2 606 ; Deceased prisoners: 249
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
23 June. The prisoners at Lurigancho prison rallied together to contain the virus. The prison authorities helped them to set up prevention teams in charge of assessing fellow prisoners and informing healthcare professionals about possible cases. They used infrared thermometers, fumigators and masks made by themselves. A team was placed in each block. Each member wore a protective suit and received training to use their equipment.
Those with mild symptoms received medicine and were placed in quarantine. Those with more severe symptoms could be placed in a block specially controlled by healthcare professionals or transferred to hospital. Six patients were currently being treated, while 40 beds had been filled at the peak of the epidemic. The director of the prison service declared his intention to “create a quarantine ring in the prison to stabilise patients so that they avoid being transferred to the public health network, which is quite saturated”.
24 March. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights dismissed the director of the National Penitentiary Institute (Instituto Nacional Penitenciairio, INPE), as well as all the members of the INPE National Penitentiary Council. The decision ensued from the recent mutinies. The INPE also called upon the Ministry of the Interior to reinforce the security of the perimeter of all the prisons in the country.
15 June. The Department of Justice reported that 1,500 prisoners were released in the past two months, i.e. half the amount that the government had announced in April.
5 June. The authorities published two decrees aimed at reducing the prison population. The first one provided measures to release or suspend the provisional detention of charged or convicted persons with so-called minor offenses. The second decree promoted a placement under electronic surveillance. The prison administration announced that approximately 50 million Peruvian soils (approximately $ 14.5 million) would be allocated for purchasing 8 000 bracelets. This continuous initiative would be the entire responsibility of the prison administration. This decree allowed to resort to placement under electronic surveillance as part of sentencing adjustments, given that the persons concerned benefited from a “minimal danger” regime (regimen mínima peligrosidad). Their attitude towards detention would also be examined. It must be exemplary.
2 June. The number of people who benefited from a release increased to 1,355, including 37 minors.
20 May. The Minister of Justice anticipated the release of about 10,000 prisoners on remand and at least 2,500 convicted offenders.
19 May. At least 933 prisoners were released due to a presidential pardon (for 187 people) and sentence remissions (746). Those released were at least age 60 and were sentenced for minor offences, such as non-payment of alimonies and plaintiffs’ claims.
9 May. At least 559 people were released since 14 April. They were serving a sentence for failure to fulfil marital or parental obligations and were granted an early release after having paid for damages and their debts.
23 April. The Minister of Justice announced that about 3,000 vulnerable prisoners or those at the end of their sentence would benefit from amnesty. A commission of presidential amnesties would establish the list of eligible detainees.
20 April. Authorities announced the establishment of 60 “temporary facilities” to treat inmates suffering from COVID-19. Thirty units would be established at prison facilities in the capital, including 21 at San Jorge Prison. This facility, previously closed, was reopened to house inmates affected by the coronavirus. Other health measures included the provision of gloves and disinfectant for guards and inmate, as well as improved access to water, electricity and food.
18 April. Leader of the opposition party Fuerza Popular, Keiko Fujimori, requested his release. His lawyer evoked a “great risk of contagion of the coronavirus” in his establishment. Fujimori had been in pre-trial detention since 29 January. Other women detained in the same establishment stated that the sanitary measures were not respected and that no protocol for the personnel had been put into place.
3 April. Inmates working in production workshops of the prisons at Arequipa, Iquitos and Pucallpa were manufacturing masks to supply the country’s prisons.
Acts of protest
11 May. Female inmates at the Santa Monica prison asked for help with the COVID-19 crisis following the detection of a positive inmate. Many cries were heard and recorded by the residents of the area.
22 April. The families of those detained in the prisons of Ancon 1 and 2 organized a rally. They asked the administration to implement preventive measures against the spread of the virus and to treat sick detainees. The families mentioned that the prison administration prevented them from bringing gloves, masks, disinfectant and medicine for detainees.
18 April. Families of inmates gathered outside of Picsi prison, where a riot occurred in which two inmates died. The families, especially inmates’ partners, demanded information about the health of their loved ones.
15 April. Inmates of Ancon II prison published a letter (carta abierta) addressed to authorities. They requested release measures to reduce overcrowding in their facility. In particular, they called for the release of prisoners aged 60 and over, those with life-threatening illnesses, pregnant women, those imprisoned for failure to pay alimony and those who have already served more than half of their sentence.
22 March. Demonstrations broke out. The death of two detainees was reported. Among the injured were six prisoners and 11 guards.
Appeals and recommendations
13 April. Members of the Supervisory body (Defensoría del Pueblo) visited the prison of Ancon 1 following a riot. They found that 10 security guards and 20 prisoners had been injured. The Defender asked the authorities to bring more health workers and medicines for the detainees. The prison of Ancon 1 has only one person in charge of the health of over 2 700 prisoners.
15 June. Authorities stated that at least 212 inmates died as a result of COVID-19 and 67 were hospitalised. Fifteen guards died and hundreds resigned since the beginning of the pandemic for fear of contagion in prison.
20 May. More than 2 800 staff members (out of 11 000) and 3 212 prisoners (out of 96 870) were tested. Of these, 674 employees and 1 223 prisoners tested positive.
27 April. A riot broke out in Miguel Castro Castro prison in Lima, where there were 1 140 places for 5 500 prisoners. The prisoners set fire to mattresses and protested against the refusal to release the most vulnerable. An operation was led by the police and guards to regain control of the prison. In its wake, three prisoners were killed in circumstances that were not “clarified” by the authorities.
23 April. The maximum security prison E.P Callao (also known as Sarita Colonia) in the province of Callao reported 430 COVID-19 positive cases among its inmates.
Sarita Colonia is one of the most overcrowded prisons in the country: 3 267 people were at the time housed in 572 places, representing an overcrowding rate of 463% (Inpe, 2020). Sarita Colonia was the prison most affected by the virus in the country. The number of COVID-19 cases confirmed within the prison was greater than the number of cases in the entire region of Ancash (365 cases), where more than one million people live.
22 April. Authorities confirmed that 113 prison staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Two of them died.
18 April. The authorities confirmed at least seven detainees died and 40 others were infected. Twenty-six supervisors tested positive.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 10
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
28 April. The Prison Administration announced that tests would be conducted on the territory’s 9 000 inmates and 6 000 prison staff.
3 April. “The prison system would not have the means to fight an outbreak”, according to Senator Héctor Martínez. Martinez called for the conditional release of many prisoners, including those with minimum security measures (custodia mínima), those who do not pose a risk to the community, prisoners at the end of their sentences, those over 65 years of age and those with serious health problems. “In the penal system, there are always quarantines, because inmates cannot be released. But there’s never been social distancing” he added. The senator asked for emergency funds to be transferred for the purchase of protective equipment.
11 May. The Senate passed a law authorising the Puerto Rico Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) to adjust the sentences on certain prisoner categories for their holders to be able to serve outside the institutions and, therefore, reduce virus spread risks.
23 July. The president of the federal tribunal warned that the Guayanabo prison could not receive any more prisoners from the United States. There had been positive cases since the arrival of 40 American inmates.
18 July. Forty prisoners were transferred from the United States. Seven of them tested positive. This transfer was not expected. There were then 10 positive cases in the country.
8 May. The minister of Justice said that no case had been detected after screening all inmates across the country. Two cases were identified at the Centro de Tratamiento Social de Ponce, a juvenile facility.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 675; Deceased prisoners: 17
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
24 June. Some 60 prisoners awaiting trial were forced to spend several weeks in a “mobile prison” bus at Saint-Domingue. The prisoners slept, ate and went to the toilet in a three metre by one metre space. The Ombudsman requested that the Attorney General put an end to the situation immediately.
2 June. The Attorney General of the Republic recognised that the pandemic revealed the extent of the country’s prison overcrowding. He provided the implementation of an “instructive plan” to the penitentiary system including the expansion of several facilities.
5 April. La Victoria prison carried out 1 000 tests for 8 500 prisoners. The opposition vice-presidential candidate said that all prisoners should be tested. However, she welcomed the isolation measures, disinfection operations and the “relocation of prisoners”. The public prosecutor called for the companies tasked with building La Nueva Victoria prison to step up the works and thus reduce overcrowding in prisons.
Acts of protest
6 May. By burning mattresses, inmates from the prison of La Romana protested against the inaction of the penal administration. They claimed that there were positive cases at the institution and, therefore, asked to be tested. There have been unconfirmed reports of a deceased prisoner. Authorities denied.
10 April 10. A riot broke out in the prison La Victoria in Santo Domingo. The prisoners set fire to mattresses. They asked to be released after the death of four of their fellow prisoners. The police responded with shots with rubber bullets. Five prisoners and a police officer were injured. La Victoria prison had 9 000 people detained for 1 500 spaces.
Appeals and recommendations
29 May. Faced with the crisis, Judge Rafael Báez called for reform in freeing up the prisons. He intended to look at the social factors that lead to incarceration rather than systematically incarcerating people.
15 May. The San Cristóbal Public Defence Office called for a reduction of provisional detention measures, the main factor causing overcrowding in prisons. Among the 294 new inmates who had arrived in April, 253 were being held in provisional detention.
1st July. The authorities announced 917 positive cases, including 346 still active.
17 June. The Republic’s Public Prosecutor’s office announced that 32 prisoners tested positive. These results were communicated after 171 tests were conducted in the prison of San Juan de la Maguana. New tests were announced.
6 June. The authorities reported 643 positive cases and 17 deaths within the country’s prisons. La Victoria was the prison with the most cases. This was attributed to the overcrowding of the facility. The Deputy Attorney General valued “the minimal impact” of the epidemic.
27 May. Health authorities announced that there were 28 cases in the prison of the La Altagracia province. All of them were to be transferred and placed in isolation.
11 May. The 41 penitentiaries of the country counted 468 positive cases on prisoners. Among them, authorities announced that 48 were no longer showing symptoms. The Republic’s public prosecutor stated that 11,300 tests were carried out on inmates with symptoms.
27 April. More than 239 cases were confirmed at La Victoria prison, out of 5 500 prisoners tested.
21 April. The Attorney General of the Republic announced the deaths of seven prisoners at La Victoria prison. The death of a person placed in temporary detention was also noted. Those figures were lower than those given by many people on social media.
10 April. The Department of Health announced that four prisoners died from COVID-19. He added that 25 detainees tested positive and that 50 were quarantined.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
12 November. Prison officials said that measures and protocols put in place in March are still in force. These include mask wearing, hand sanitizing, as well as temperature checks for anyone entering the prison. There are also three cells set aside for quarantining (14 days) new arrivals. The administration said that the protocols will be maintained until the pandemic ceases to exist.
27 May. The authorities received substantial donations of health equipment from the regional organization CARICOM IMPACS in order to prevent the spread of the epidemic. Additional equipment deliveries were planned. No case was reported among the detainees. The organization feared, however, a health disaster if the epidemic touched the country’s prisons.
7 May. The Commissioner of Corrections commended the implementation of precautionary measures since the start of the epidemic, safeguarding the inmates. He stated that visits were suspended, awareness activities performed at detention centers, and disinfection measures implemented.
7 May. The Commissioner of Corrections announced that an early release system had been set up for detainees.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
6 June. The prison administration completed the protocols implemented within the establishment of Bordeaux. All visits were suspended except those with lawyers. All new detainees were subjected to a medical examination. New entrants would be kept in solitary confinement for 14 days. They would undergo a new medical examination, receive masks and their temperature would be read daily. No cases were reported. The authorities claim to have the necessary means to deal with a future epidemic, especially with the equipment that was provided by the agency Caricom Impacs.
6 June. The authorities announced the initiation of videoconference visits for families.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 1,000
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
5 September. At Quezaltepeque and Izalco prison conditions do not allow for proper physical distancing between prisoners. They are crowded in inappropriate cells and only wear flimsy masks.
17 August. The Qatari embassy and UNODC provided medical and prevention equipment to prison staff in the country.
24 June. Members of the Comisión de Seguridad de la Asamblea Legislativa appealed for a hearing at the Ministry of Justice and Security to investigate the measures taken in prisons.
5 June. The United States International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Office (INL) donated 500 hospital mattresses and 250 cabins to stem the spread of the epidemic.
3 June. Health measures were implemented to branch the spread of the epidemic in detention. Authorities mentioned that all detainees were on medical treatment “as if they were usual Salvadorans”. Human rights groups deplored the lack of guarantees to prevent the spread of the virus.
27 April. Some strict measures intended to control prisoners were taken to limit the spread of coronavirus. Sanitary conditions were reputed to be extremely bad in the country’s prisons. Respiratory diseases had a higher incidence, and the rate of tuberculosis infection was 50 times greater in prisons than on the outside, according to the Pan American Journal of Public Health.
25 March. “Prisons are a time bomb for the spread of coronavirus”, Jorge Panameño, specialist in infectious diseases, said. He called for urgent preventive measures, including the suspension of visits for family members and lawyers.
8 July. The Minister of the Interior published the seventh list of the 22 new persons granted early release. The number of people released before the end of their initial sentence then stood at 253.
27 April. No release measures had been announced for the country, despite an occupancy rate exceeding 210%.
25 March. Judicial and prison authorities, as well as representatives for the International Committee of the Red Cross, were considering temporarily releasing prisoners over 60 and those with terminal illnesses who did not have long to live. Judicial sources also brought up the release of former civil servants incarcerated for offences linked to corruption. Gang members would be excluded from such measures.
Contact with the outside world
25 April. The President announced a general 24-hour lockdown for prisons housing gang members. The sanction included the following measures: the closure of canteens, suspension of contact with the outside, suspension of activities and solitary confinement of gang leaders. It came as a reaction to 22 homicides committed in the country in the space of a day. The “zerotolerance” policy implemented by the President provided that sanctions would be imposed on prisoners in the event that crime outside prisons increased. Almost 80% of the attacks committed on the outside were allegedly ordered by prisoners.
Prisoners were forced to cram themselves into prison yards, sitting with their limbs entwined, while their cells were searched.
Acts of protest
19 June. A mutiny broke out at the San Roque prison. This event followed the first positive case within the facility. Inmates were demanding better access to health care. The authorities intervened by ending the incident with the use of “chemical agents”.
Appeals and recommendations
14 May. The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) denounced overcrowding in prisons. It deplored the fate of incarcerated women since the beginning of the pandemic. The authorities were not making up for the shortages caused by the quarantine of prisons. Detained women were unable to receive sanitary products or milk or nappies for their children. CEJIL asked the authorities to take a series of measures to protect prisoners and guarantee the provision of basic necessities.
29 April. Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced “cruel treatment and violations of dignity” inflicted on prisoners during the lockdown of 25 April. The Director of HRW recalled that the deprivation of freedom did not justify endangering prisoners and exposing them to the risk of COVID-19.
16 June. The director of prison administration announced that 1,097 prisoners showed symptoms.
2 June. The director of the penitentiary centers announced more than 1,000 potential cases. A number were reported in the San Vicente prison (396 cases), La Esperanza (513 cases) and Quezaltepeque (154 cases).
30 May. Prisons around the country recorded 142 prisoners as having tested positive and 945 possible cases. According to the head of the University of Central America Institute for Human Rights, this shocking increase is linked to the collective punishments practiced during the last few weeks. Prisoners then found themselves in close proximity.
26 May. Health authorities have signaled at least 36 positive cases among inmates. Twenty-five were detected in a prison in San Vincente and 11 in the Quezaltepeque prison. Shelter-in-place zones were reportedly set up. These contaminations happened in the framework of an extreme toughening of detention conditions following the violence of the past few weeks. Numerous images have been published showing detainees grouped together wearing only underwear and without adequate protection or physical distancing conditions. Some prisoners are being continuously detained, in groups in sealed, dark cells.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners : 86+
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
14 October. Prisoners who tested positive for COVID-19 were transferred to a building of the Department of Marine Resources and Fisheries. The building was designed for this purpose and will be used on a temporary basis. Ill individuals are held there and placed in solitary shelter.
24 September. A memorandum circulated on social media with an inmate’s description of the “deplorable” prison conditions. The acting prisons commissioner denounced this account as false information, claiming that there have been no Covid-related deaths in the country’s prisons.
24 August. The prison administration announced the implementation of prevention and screening measures in the country’s prisons.
17 September. The CCHR confirmed that inmates eligible for early release were not always released.
Contact with the outside world
5 December. Prison officials announced the resumption of visits in the country’s prisons, except for Claxton Bay. Each facility will conduct 50 visits a day. Untried prisoners can meet with a family member once a week, while convicted prisoners can have a visitor once a month. Visitors must make their request via the prison’s WhatsApp account, and they are not allowed to bring parcels to their loved ones. Officials will continue to promote virtual visits by Zoom.
Acts of protest
22 September. At least 139 foreign inmates demanded that prison officials let them talk to their own embassies. The inmates had taken part in the hunger strike that was held the previous week. Most of them (96) are untried prisoners. Prison officials indicated that embassy personnel are allowed to visit the facilities and they have “nothing to hide”.
16 September. Inmates at Port of Spain prison staged a hunger strike. They demanded that bail amounts be lowered for those who have committed so-called minor offences and requested clothing and medication. The strikers accused police and guards of torturing remanded prisoners in Building 13 of the maximum security prison in order to get them to plead guilty. They called for the release of all prisoners in that block and demanded speedy trials for those in remand. They claimed that the building is “an inhumane enclosed environment perfect for the breeding of the COVID-19”. Prison officials said that the inmates’ accusations are “unfounded and untrue”.
Appeals and recommendations
24 November. The Prison Officers’ Association called on the Ministry of Health to have all inmates tested, noting the “exponential” increase in cases in prisons. “The Ministry of Health MUST make provisions for All inmates to be tested in batches of 200 every other day until we have a clear picture of where the clusters exist and the pattern of infection in our Prisons”, insisted the association. It also pointed out that personal protective equipment is either insufficient or non-existent in the prisons.
17 November. The Caribbean Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) renewed its call for government to deal with the upsurge in the number of positive cases in maximum security prisons. It also criticised the government for not keeping its promise of releasing non-violent offenders. “It is impossible to social distance in overcrowded prisons and places not just the prison population at risk but also the wider community because prisons do not operate in isolation”, said the CCHR.
17 September. The Caribbean Centre for Human Rights, (CCHR) reiterated its call to government to do more to mitigate the risks of spreading COVID-19.
18 November The number of inmates who tested positive in the Arouca maximum security prison rose to 86. An association of prison officers warned the authorities about the “explosive situation” in that facility.
10 November. Authorities announced that more than 200 inmates were to be tested at Arouca maximum security prison. They had been in direct or indirect contact with 18 inmates who tested positive on the previous weekend. The prison was placed on lockdown. Up to that point, a total of 57 inmates had tested positive around the country
20 September. More than 250 staff members were quarantined after 26 tested positive.
16 September. Officials reported that five inmates tested positive. All those infected were from Port of Spain prison.
27 August. More than 230 prison staff have been placed in quarantine, while 28 others tested positive. The administration announced that those who have tested positive will be replaced by 300 new recruits.
24 August. Two prisoners and several staff members tested positive at Golden Grove prison. The administration announced an enhanced prevention plan.
Confirmed cases amongst prisoners: 4
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
13 April. Thirteen inmates with respiratory symptoms corresponding to the COVID-19 were tested. Eight of them tested negative and five, placed in quarantine, were waiting for the results. An area with 400 places in the Unidad 4 Santiago Vázques prison was equipped to examine and shelter prisoners with symptoms. Similar premises were set up in other prisons within the country.
16 March. A health protocol was set up in all prisons. Prisoners with flu like symptoms would be placed in quarantine. The plan provided for the distribution of hygiene products to personnel (hand sanitizer, masks, gloves) and neutral soap and sodium hypochlorite to prisoners, as well as the fumigation of communal areas and the vehicles used to transfer prisoners.
Contact with the outside world
27 May. Five homicides occurred in May in the Unidad 4 Santiago Vázques prison (formerly Comcar). The Minister of the Interior acknowledged that the increase in violence and tension among prisoners was due to a drug shortage in the prisons. According to the Minister, the shortage is the result of the increase checking of people entering the facilities. According to the National Institute for Rehabilitation, eight out of ten inmates have a drug problem. There were no risk reduction programmes in place addressing this problem.
16 March Under the health protocol set up in all prisons, visits would be limited to one adult visitor per prisoner, visiting hours would be segmented to avoid any gatherings and all incoming persons (guards, external participants, new prisoners) would undergo temperature checks. Those presenting with a temperature higher than 37.5° would be banned from entering and escorted to a health centre.
Appeals and recommendations
13 April. The Medical Union of Uruguay (SMU) and the organization Nada crece a la sombra demanded urgent health measures and proposed:
• a seven-day quarantine for new detainees at their arrival in detention. A coronavirus screening test should be performed by the end of this period. The quarantine must be extended to 14 days if the test could not be carried out.
• the supply of masks to prisoners and staff. Wearing a mask must be compulsory during treatments and visits, and when the distance of one and a half meters was impossible to respect.
• the creation of an “inter-institutional emergency committee” to strengthen the coordination between the various organisms working within prison.
Sanitary conditions and access to healthcare
15 October. The NGO Una Ventana a la Libertad revealed in a report that people held in police stations in the states of Vargas and Miranda lacked food and water. Many of them were ill: 558 were suffering from malnutrition, 183 had tuberculosis and 10 were HIV/AIDS carriers.
10 September. Inmate deaths doubled during the pandemic, according to a study by Insight Crime. It reported that out of a total of 287 deaths, 162 were in prisons and 125 in police stations. This number is up from 137 during the same period in 2019. Most of the prison deaths were due to tuberculosis (51) and malnutrition (40). Nearly a third of the prison deaths occurred after a riot in May: 47 of the inmates were assaulted by the National Guard in Los Llanos. Most of the police station deaths occurred when detainees tried to escape (74). Insight Crime suggested that the “explosion” in the number of deaths was directly related to the suspension of visits in April.
4 August. The families of persons deprived of liberty in Merida prison denounced the lack of medical care and testing for prisoners.
27 July. A day for medical check-ups and coronavirus testing was held at the Vargas police station. The 24 people held at the station tested negative. Medication was handed out to detainees who had other ailments. Forty-six inmates from the San Carlos prison, in Zulia, were tested after demonstrations were held by inmates and their families denouncing the lack of medical attention and medication. More than 400 people were incarcerated in the San Carlos prison.
26 July. Health authorities conducted a sanitizing day at theEl Hatillo prison, inCaracas. Families complained about the procedure and reported that inmates had breathing difficulties because of the products used.
April. 56 inmates at the El Llanito prison were placed in a shipping container where they endured heat and overcrowding.
20 May. The 438 inmates transferred to Cepello in the David Viloria prison were submitted to a sanitary protocol upon their arrival. They were lined up in a courtyard to have their hair cut. They were then given blue and yellow prison clothes, personal hygiene kits and cleaning products. Members of staff explained the exceptional rules to them before they were sent to their cells.
2 May. The health personnel asked the relatives of prisoners injured during the riot to provide hygiene products, surgical gowns and gloves during the mutiny. They claimed that they were unable to provide forensic care or examinations due to the shortage of medical equipment.
23 April. The Minister of Prison Services, Iris Varela, reported that she visited several prisons to verify that the health prevention protocol was respected. The Ministry was working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which provided hygiene kits, water pumps and hand-washing stations.
15 April. Tensions between prisoners in the Zulia pretrial detention center increased as they were suffering from hunger, Una Ventana a la Libertad revealed. Families were still authorised to bring parcels, despite the visitation suspension. They encountered difficulties in reaching prisons, which severely limited the supply of basic products (food, soap and medicines). The families commented on the suspension of inter-municipal public transport the obligation to present a pass and on the shortage of fuel. Families said they feared for the confiscation of their supplies by staff or gang leaders. Two massive escapes took place during a three-week period at the Zulia prison.
Una Ventana a la Libertad is worried about the prisoners’ situation in police stations (calabozos). They mentioned that the police had neither the resources to feed the prison population, nor the logistics or personnel to prevent escapes, protests or riots. The NGO stated in a press release that “the confinement of these prisoners in confined spaces, with the precarious conditions of detention and without food [could] result in tragedies”.
People who would not comply with containment measures might be arrested, remanded in custody and forced to attend awareness workshops on the COVID-19 epidemic. The Human Rights Vicariate of the Archdiocese of Barquisimeto expressed concern about this measure. It emphasised that the entry of outsiders into the penal system endangers the prison population, which is itself extremely vulnerable. Some awareness workshops were attended by up to 400 participants.
2 April. Inmates from El Hatillo Institution (Caracas) sent association Una Ventana a la Libertad photos and videos testifying about the alarming state of promiscuity and the decayed cells. They said that prison officers welded the cell doors to keep them closed. Many reported then difficulties for breathing and some even fainted. The establishment, located in the region’s most affected area, did not have hydroalcoholic gel or masks. Detainees requested to be transferred to institutions that could guarantee their safety.
1 April. The government of Carabobo extended the disinfection program in collective spaces in the provisional detention centers (CDP) of Valencia.
19 July. The head of the autonomous police institute of the State of Nouvelle-Sparte indicated that steps were being taken by the courts, the public ministry and the region’s security groups to expedite court appearances for people being held in custody. These measures affected detainees who had committed “minor” infractions and were applicable in the six remand facilities in this State (over 700 detainees).
27 July. The Apure criminal court authorised the early release of 88 people from the San Fernando and Biruaca prisons who were being held in custody for minor offences.
15 June. At least 1 410 prisoners were released between April and June. Most of them were incarcerated in prisons in Carabobo, Miranda, Guárico, Falcón and Portuguesa. Families of inmates claimed that their release was due to the prison administration taking over cases that had not been processed prior to the pandemic. They criticised the delay of the administration, whose conduct of proceedings was taking years.
23 April. A total of 382 inmates, including 25 women, were released from Tocuyito prison (State ofCarabobo). Only inmates serving sentences of less than eight years were eligible for release. The authorities reported that tests were carried out before each release.
1 April. The authorities started to implement a plan to relieve overcrowding in prisons. The judges of Táchira authorised the release of 32 people and the transfer of 72 detainees to the Occidente prison center.
Contact with the outside world
7 September. Visits have resumed at CICPC Amazonas prison. Visitors must maintain a distance of 10 to 15 meters from inmates. They are permitted to bring food and medication.
3 August. Families of prisoners reported that guards asked for money in exchange for permission to visit (visits are officially suspended). At Boleíta prison, guards asked for $5 for a 30-minute visit and $10 for a conjugal visit. In the prison of San Agustín del Sur, guards demanded $2 for a half-hour visit.
20 July. The families of inmates at the Oculare del Tuy (Miranda State) were worried about the health of their loved ones. The inmates had not received any medical treatment and depended on their families for antibiotics and other medication. The overall prison environment was getting worse because of the crippled legal system.
19 July. Relatives of El Hatillo inmates (Caracas) protested the lack of communication. Sending letters was banned. The families asked that human rights groups be able to inspect the facility.
18 June. Suspended visits reportedly increased hunger and the spread of the tuberculosis epidemic in prisons. Access to food, water and medicine was mainly provided by relatives during visits.
15 April. The ban on visits and the restriction of movement between different parts of the country made inmates who were far away from their families very vulnerable. Prisoners in Carabobo and Lara shared food with fellow prisoners who were no longer able to receive it, however, the Ministry stated that food parcels could not benefit more than one prisoner. Money transfers were used to circumvent the ban on visits.
Acts of protest
2 September. Families of inmates at Caraballeda reported a disturbance in a cell at Retén de Caraballeda, where nearly 100 people were detained. The families explained that there are more and more protest movements because of overcrowding and delayed court appearances.
16 July Families of inmates in different Caracas facilities reported that human rights abuses had been observed since the onset of the pandemic.
El Llanito prison inmates went on a hunger strike in April to demand that their trials be expedited, without success.
Families of El Polihatillo inmates complained about the problems they encountered when trying to visit their loved ones and to bring them food. .
At the Polibaruta prison, families denounced the ban on bringing in medications and the lack of medical care.
16 May. Over 2 000 detainees were evacuated from the Los Llanos Occidentales (Cepello) prison in order for the establishment to close down. The minister of prison services declared that 1 718 inmates would be transferred to another prison and the remaining 380 placed in “transition prisons”. The penitentiary centre of Los Llanos may reopen in three months once it has been renovated. The minister declared that the evacuation of this establishment marked the end of “a shameful chapter of the Venezuelan prison system”.
8 May. The Attorney General announced that 12 people, including staff and detainees, were charged with their participation in the 1 May violence at the prison center Los Llanos. No details on their identity were communicated.
2 May. An inmate from Los Llanos described the actual facts which led to the massacre: “after the visits were prohibited, we have been hungry. The disposition of food parcels has not been the same. A group of prisoners initiated a complaint as the guards only allowed one out of every two parcels and kept the rest.”
Nearly 18 hours after the massacre, the Minister Iris Varela gave her version of the facts and declared that the riot followed “an attempted escape”. She said she rejected violence and deeply regretted “the situation [in which] the homes of humble Venezuelan families [were] in (…). We will be firm with those who, for vile reasons, generate violence which cause the Venezuelan families to suffer”.
Maria Beatriz Martinez, the delegate and member of the Parliament’s Subcommittee for human rights, said the Gendarmerie (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana) was responsible. The head of the brigade was said to have ordered the prison intervention although not empowered to do so. The “leading prisoner” (known as Pran) is suspected of having initiated the protests.
1 May. At least 47 prisoners had died and 75 were hurt during a riot at Los Llanos prison in Guanare. The director of the prison had also been hurt. The Venezuelan Prison Observatory recalled that the guards had opened fire following the uprising.
2 April. More than 1 000 people detained in the Boleíta police stations (Boleíta PNB) went on a hunger strike. They protested against the delays of the legal procedures which had increased since the beginning of their quarantine. Hundreds of women went to the premises to support their loved ones. Convicted persons and defendants were also detained in police stations.
10 March. The escape of 84 of the 518 detainees in prison San Carlos, in the state of Zulia, resulted in death for 10 of them.
Appeals and recommendations
21 July. Families of prisoners of Los Teques prison in Miranda demanded that tests be conducted on the entire prison population after the confirmation of two cases.
25 May. Detainees of the Nueva Esparta prison and their families asked legal authorities to allow hearings to take place once more, since their suspension in March. They called for activities at the La Asunción courthouse to resume, while using protocols to maintain distancing and sanitary measures.
3 May. The relatives of the prisoners who died during the Los Llanos riot reported great difficulty in recognising the bodies and organising the burials. One mentioned the authorities planned to bury the bodies in a mass grave, in plastic sheeting and without a funeral. The delegate Maria Beatriz Martinez denounced the authorities’ intention to conceal the nature of the victims’ injuries.
2 April. The families of detainees demanded that authorities implement “a day of disinfection” in the CDPs of Caraballeda, Macuto and La Guaira.
17 March. The COVID-19 epidemic poses an additional problem to the already precarious situation of prisoners. The organisation Una ventana a la libertad called on the government to address the needs of prisoners. It highlighted that prisons are severely overcrowded (with an average occupation rate of 205%) and expressed its concerns on the suspension of visits. Prisoners rely greatly on the assistance of their families for food and clothes.
5 September. Authorities reported 12 new cases of coronavirus among the prisoners held in the Base III police station in La Asunción (State of Nueva Esparta). The number of inmates who tested positive in the state has reached 76.
27 August. Una Ventana a la Libertad reported that 85 people held in custody tested positive. One of the inmates died from COVID-19.
4 August. Una Ventana a la Libertad reported that 51 people in pre-trial detention tested positive.
Authorities confirmed the first death of a prisoner as a result of COVID-19 at Bermúdez prison in the state of Sucre.
26 July. Thirty-six remand prisoners at the Mariño prison, in Nueva Esparta tested positive. The authorities reported that they had been quarantined and were receiving medical care.
8 July. A member of the National Assembly confirmed the presence of a positive case at Ramo Verde prison. He was concerned that no preventive measures were being taken for the rest of the prisoners to prevent the spread of the pandemic in the overcrowded prison. The prison housed 500 prisoners with a capacity of 125.
The report by the Sociedad de Criminología Latinoamericana on the effects of the coronavirus in Latin American prisons
The report from Venezuelan association Une ventana a la Libertad on the first 50 days of quarantine in the remand detention centres.
The report from the University of Andes Journalism School regarding the La Modeloprison riot on the 21 March
Appeals and recommendations.
The recommendations for the Latin American authorities on the treatment of women prisoners during the pandemic, produced by the Centro de Estudios y Acción por la Justicia -CEA (Mexico), Justicia-Asociación Civil (Mexico), and the Psychology Department of Chili University
The press release of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the conditions of detention in Latin America
The resolution adopted by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to establish standards and make recommendations to member States
The Chilean NGO LEASUR proposed an action plan and recommendations to national and international authorities.
The call from Corpora en Libertad to consider the effect of the pandemic on LGBTI+ detainees.
The opinion piece by Nathalie Alvarado (coordinator of the Inter-American Development Bank’s “Citizen Security and Justice” focus area) on the importance of keeping the coronavirus out of prisons.
The press release from Human Rights Watch on Latin America