COVID-19 infections rise in overcrowded prisons in Central America

In Central American prisons there are almost a thousand prisoners infected with COVID-19 and one death, and the worst is feared there because, like the vast majority of prisons in Latin America, they are crowded spaces where it is "impossible" maintain the basic measures to control the spread of the new coronavirus.

"I know how prisons are, how they bathe (inmates), that is not bathing for God! And it is part of the overcrowding. The prison structures themselves do not allow us to attend to the minimum sanitary measures" that the control of a pandemic demands , the commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Panamanian Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, told Efe this Friday.

The commissioner noted that overcrowding and unsanitary problems affect prisons across the continent "with very rare exceptions."

In the framework of this pandemic, the IACHR considers that the situation in Panama's prisons "is critical", since the prison population "is being disproportionately impacted" by COVID-19.

According to official figures, Central America accumulates more than 25,290 infections and at least 680 deaths from COVID-19, and Panama is the most affected country with 320 deaths and 12,131 confirmed cases.


In the prisons of Panama there are 503 infected, according to published the local press based on government sources, and the majority (333) are from the Santiago de Veraguas prison, which has a population of 503 inmates.

The contagion figures vary daily given "the number of massive swabs being done" in these facilities, where the contagion of 26 custodians and officials has also been confirmed, official sources told Efe on Friday.

The new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, causing COVID-19, has been detected in four prisons, including a women's prison, out of the 16 for adults that Panama has and the protocol that is applied is the isolation of sick inmates .


Authorities in El Salvador have reported that 142 inmates from four of its 25 prison facilities are infected with COVID-19, as well as at least four custodians.

Among the sick are 33 inmates of a psychiatric ward, which led a prison surveillance court to ask the General Directorate of Penal Centers and the Ministry of Health for explanations of the spread of inmates with "mental illness".

"I was in December last in El Salvador" and there were "deprived of liberty in provisional detention with overcrowding of 900%" in one center, "there was no room for anyone," said Arosemena de Troitiño

The Honduran authorities have reported 30 inmates infected with COVID-19, 28 of them in the National Penitentiary, the main in the country, and a single deceased, the only one officially reported so far in the region's prisons.

In Guatemala, there are four prisoners deprived of liberty with COVID-19, two women and two men, detected in three jails in the country, which has a total prison population of 26,160 inmates, 52% serving a sentence and 48% in preventive detention.

Authorities have said that prisoners infected with coronavirus will be transferred to a prison in Guatemala City.


In Nicaragua, whose government has been criticized for its lax reaction to the pandemic, there are no official figures of COVID-19 infected in prisons, but relatives of "political prisoners" report that some 38 to 45 detained opponents have contracted it.

Ordinary prisoners have counted between four and six deaths from the pandemic inside the jails and have also reported that some jailers have been sent home for presenting symptoms of COVID-19.


Central American nations have suspended or limited visits to prisons, which register overcrowding levels ranging from 30% in the case of Costa Rica, the only country in the region that does not register COVID-19 in its jails, to more than 200% as is the case Honduras.

Now "there is a need for the Judicial System to assume its responsibility," because one of the causes of overcrowding is the excessive use of preventive detention, said the Commissioner of the IACHR, who recalled that the vast majority of prisoners in the region they have not yet been sentenced by a judge.

"We must apply what the Code allows, that implies a review of the situation of those deprived of liberty who may be benefited with a measure other than detention," thereby acting "in law and in compliance with inter-American standards on the subject. of human rights, "said Arosemena de Troitiño.

The response to the prison drama, exacerbated on the continent by the pandemic, "is not short-term, but positions must be taken immediately" to begin paying off "the system's debts," added the inter-American magistrate.


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