Chile : Managing uncertainty
The Chilean reaction to the sanitary crisis in prison and its consequences
In Chile, the first confirmed COVID-19 case was a prison officer on 23 March 2020. It was followed by a COVID-19 outbreak in specific prisons of the capital city and other regions of the country. In response to this, the Prison Service – in coordination with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health – implemented several strategies, such as the development of a Coronavirus Plan, a Health Protocol, a massive vaccination campaign against influenza, the suspension of in-person visits, and a pardon act to release prisoners. Civil society organisations, including human rights and justice organisations, have repeatedly claimed that current prison conditions do not allow for adequate management of the pandemic, due to the overcrowding in some prisons, lack of access to water and sanitary conditions in others.
The Gendarmería‘s transfer of prisoners to prison facilities and regions without prior testing was heavily criticised. This resulted in the infection of other prisoners. Shortly after, the penitentiary authorities improved their transfer protocols, making it compulsory to apply a PCR test before and after any transfer. Prisoners incarcerated during the pandemic experienced high levels of tension and fear. The access to information was insufficient for both prisoners and staff, which resulted in several riots and strikes. Various organisations calling for better prison conditions gained however more visibility. Arguing that prisoners’ lives and human rights are as important as of any other citizen, they recommended measures such as sentence adjustments, early release, and health protocols.
Prison Insider and the Centre for Studies on Justice and Society (Chile) propose an analysis of the first year of the pandemic in prisons in eleven countries. Chile is one of them.