In a statement released on March 19th, several civil organizations called on the authorities to take special measures in prisons to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). They recalled that “due to the close proximity conditions in prisons, incarceration generates the ideal conditions for contagion and these are aggravated when there is overcrowding, lack of water and hygienic conditions.”
They detailed that according to INEGI, “in Mexico there are currently 202,337 people in prisons and 37% of prisons are overcrowded. Nationally, 46% of people deprived of liberty share a cell with more than five people, and in some states the number of people per cell is much higher.” According to this same source, 11.2% of the incarcerated population “is over 50 years of age and among them there is a high incidence of diseases that can cause more serious forms of COVID-19.” The organizations also pointed out that “the lack of water and personal hygiene items make it impossible to achieve the hygiene conditions that would prevent mass contagion in the penitentiary centers.”
Among other things, they recommended adopting a policy of non-detention of people for non-violent crimes; release women today deprived of liberty for crimes that are not serious or that did not involve violence (a proposal that is part of the Amnesty Law presented in September last year, “which has already been presented in Congress and whose approval must be accelerated to safeguard them and their daughters and sons”); release older adults, or those at high risk of developing complications from COVID-19, including pregnant women, people with diabetes, hypertension and HIV; and adopt urgent measures within detention centers to guarantee the right to health of persons deprived of liberty.
They warned about the fact that “the suspension of visits is not a sufficient measure and before opting for it, governments must take into account that in several penitentiary centers it is families and not institutions that provide food, medicine, water and other items to the population. In this sense, denying entry to visitors will put people deprived of liberty at greater risks.”
It is worth noting that since March 14th, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) asked all the authorities of the penitentiary system to take at least preventive measures to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in the country’s prisons and to protect the life and health of persons deprived of liberty; of visits; prison staff, and service providers. However, its recommendations were mainly focused on information and awareness about the disease and ways to avoid contagion inside and outside the prison.
For more information in Spanish:
Reclusas en México elaboran mascarillas para afrontar crisis del coronavirus (El Imparcial, 22 de marzo de 2020)
México debe cambiar prácticas de detención y despresurizar sus cárceles ante pandemia de COVID-19 (OSC, 19 de marzo de 2020)
Crisis de COVID-19: mayor vulnerabilidad para las personas privadas de libertad (Asilegal, 19 de marzo de 2020)
Personas presas, en riesgo por coronavirus: ¿Qué están haciendo las cárceles para prevenir contagios? (Animal Político, 17 de marzo de 2020)
Pide CNDH prevenir contagio de coronavirus en cárceles del país (El Universal, 14 de marzo de 2020)
For more information from SIPAZ:
National: AMLO Sends Proposal for Amnesty Law to Congress (September 23, 2019)