News Thematic paper

What measures are taken to guarantee the safety of all prisoners and prison staff? What are the consequences of the pandemic on the living conditions in prisons? Here is an overview.

Since 18 March, Prison Insider has been documenting measures taken and events observed, on the basis of the information available. Despite the very short perspective, Prison Insider attempts below a tentative reading of this planetary turmoil.

The coronavirus is a butterfly. We do not understand everything about the startling phenomenon of the coronavirus and its ‘butterfly effect’—can a flapping of wings in Brazil provoke a tornado in Texas? Little is known, yet anything and everything is said. Prison Insider will stick to its core mission: producing information that serves (good) decision-making.

Of the mass of information available, we will document the following: of the eleven million people incarcerated throughout the world, most overall are poor and as such physically and mentally vulnerable. They have much to fear from the pandemic.

Too many States flout their own laws and warehouse people and problems, disregarding rights, ethics and effectiveness. The result is a deep concern, and for some, real anxiety shared by those detained and those who guard them.

In the measures taken and the consequences observed, two major trends appear:

The first can be qualified as closing : suspension of the right of visitation by relatives; interruption of activities; blockage of temporary absences; suspensions of court audiences that impact prospects of release; mutinies, violent and deadly for some; jailbreaks, sometimes massive; ‘disinfections’ here and there but with shortages of products to practice sanitation; the absence of water to wash one’s hands in many facilities; the compromise of meals for those who rely on their loved ones for food; the prohibition of the use of hydroalcoholic hand sanitizer because of the alcohol content… and, always, the use of force to keep the lid firmly shut.

The second can be qualified as opening. It includes: the release of prisoners, whether massive or not; sentence adjustments and other forms of early release; the decrease in use of detention for short sentences and for pre-trial custody; the provision of postal stamps or phone and video calls to preserve family ties…

The time is not (yet) here for an analysis. The wave must retreat before the damage can be assessed. It will then be time to count the victims, repair the damage, and learn the necessary lessons.

Useful links




  • An information package developed by UN DPO (JCS/OROLSI) and UNITAR (Division for Peace)

  • The guidance brief from the OMCT (in English), with contributions from the Public Committee Against Torture, Physicians for Human Rights, l’association pour la Prévention de la Torture, Antigone Association, Prison Insider, the Public Verdict Foundation and Justice Project Pakistan

  • The article COVID-19 in prison by the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) in Geneva, Switzerland

  • The briefing note by Penal Reform International

Appeals and recommendations.

  • The interim recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) on the COVID-19 management in prisons and other places of detention

  • The advice from the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) regarding persons deprived of liberty and the current pandemic, available in 6 languages from the United Nations

  • The call from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to take urgent action to protect the health and safety of people in detention and other closed facilities

  • The call from International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to protect detainees and staff

  • The statement of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) for the establishment of effective measures to protect public health and safety, including for the most vulnerable

  • An appeal for a global moratorium on the death penalty while the States are trying hard to save lives and a fair judicial process is impossible was presented by over 40 organisations to the United Nations Human Rights Council


  • Amnesty International call on the sub-Saharan African States to free-up space in their prisons by releasing political prisoners and prisoners of conscience

  • The joint declaration of the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) and ten NGOs addressed to African decision-makers

  • The joint statement of 26 national and international stakeholders calling for immediate emergency measures to protect the rights of prisoners in Africa



  • The report by the Sociedad de Criminología Latinoamericana on the effects of the coronavirus in Latin American prisons

  • Summaries of LEASUR on the coronavirus in Chile prisons: March, April and May

  • 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



  • Justice Project Pakistan’s explanatory video on prison conditions in Pakistani prisons and the vulnerability of prisoners faced with COVID-19.

Appeals and recommendations.

  • The statement from the ADPAN network, relayed by the Australian Capital Punishment Justice project.



  • The information page of EuroPris, the European Organisation of Prison and Correctional Services, on preventive measures.

Appeals and recommendations.

  • The open letter to the presidents of the institutions of the European Union, signed by 50 public figures from several countries, demanding an immediate amnesty for persons deprived of their freedom

  • The call of 42 European NGOs to international institutions including the WHO and the Council of Europe

  • The statement of principles related to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in the context of Covid-19 by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT)

  • 60 MEPs have called on the commission and the European Council to encourage member states to adopt measures to guarantee the protection of prisoners’ fundamental rights

Middle East

  • The call of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, the MENA rights group, and 38 other organizations for the governments of the Middle East-North Africa region to take emergency measures to protect prison populations from the COVID-19 virus epidemic


  • The statement from the ADPAN network, relayed by the Australian Capital Punishment Justice project