Locked up with Covid-19: UN warns of ‘disastrous’ conditions in Latin America’s jails

The UN has warned that overcrowding and poor conditions in Latin American jails is leading to the rapid spread of Covid-19 among inmates.
The UN has warned that overcrowding and poor conditions in Latin American jails is leading to the rapid spread of Covid-19 among inmates. © Reuters / France 24

Protests and riots have hit prisons across South America in recent weeks over fears of the spread of Covid-19 within their walls. Now, the UN is warning that overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and lack of access to health care is causing the “rapid spread” of the virus in detention facilities throughout Latin America.

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“It is an absolutely chronic situation and this is because the overcrowding in some of the countries was massive, I mean you’re talking about in some places, like 500 percent over the limit of what the crowding should be in prison,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In several countries, tensions over conditions have led to deadly riots.

In Bogota, Colombia, 23 inmates were killed in a riot in a crowded prison in March, while at least nine were killed when a riot broke out at a prison in Peru last month, after two inmates died from Covid-19.

That prison was housing some 5,500 inmates despite an official capacity of just 2,140.

But it is not just in Latin America where overcrowded prisons have become a breeding ground for Covid-19.

In the US, testing of prisoners has shown the virus is rampant among some inmate populations.

At one Ohio prison more than 2,000 of 2,500 inmates tested positive for coronavirus.

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