In 2019, Costa Rican prisons faced an outbreak of mumps that made visible some failures of the prison system regarding the prevention of contagious diseases. The prison administration was led to adapt isolations spaces inside the facilities to quarantine those infected and mitigate the spread of mumps. At that time, the transfers were not suspended nor adapted, and outbreaks were observed simultaneously in several facilities.
A Prison Administration Officer explained : “This (experience) served as a background for us to be able to generate strategies and confront the coronavirus. Our country registered the first case in March 2020. In the following two weeks, we implemented a series of measures that we had been working on. The Ministry of Justice and Peace began to work hand in hand with the Ministry of Health. They drew up national guidelines for the monitoring of COVID-19 which were implemented in all prisons. These have been evolving as the spread of the pandemic advanced.” Under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice and Peace, an emergency team started working closely with the Ministry of Health. It was later established as the Emergency Commission (Comando de Atención de Emergencias). Together, they established guidelines for the management of COVID-19 in penitentiary facilities, within the framework of the coronavirus national health alert. Three sanitary protocols were established for all penitentiary facilities: one for the preventive care, another one for measures in case of massive infection and the last regarding the transfer of patients. All the documents were approved by the Ministry of Health. The vice-minister of Justice and Peace declared in July 2020, that beyond the general guidelines, “each centre had a mandatory obligation to carry out and develop its own specific protocol”.

“The Emergency Commission responds to the sanitary crisis in coordination with the Ministry of Health, the Costa Rican Social Security Fund, the Joint Institute of Social Assistance and the Ministry of Public Security. It is an inter-institutional effort where each body intervenes in its field of responsibility within the penitentiary system” (Interview with a Prison Administration Officer).

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. Costa Rican is one of them.

Access to phone calls was already insufficient before the pandemic.