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Colombia: Fears over 'precarious' situation of prisoners in overcrowded jails

More than 120,000 prisoners held in jails with capacity of only 80,000

Authorities must prevent infection among prison population, including by early releases

‘We must leave no one behind in the face of this pandemic’ - Erika Guevara-Rosas

Amid growing concerns over the "precarious" situation of prisoners in the country, Amnesty International is urging the Colombian Government to immediately implement a strategy for the prevention of COVID-19 infection among the prison population.

At least 23 people have died and 83 have been injured following prison protests in Colombia over the weekend.

Protests began on 21 March, after inmates in several Colombian prisons began demonstrations calling for efficient measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director, said:

“In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic that confronts us, there are growing concerns about the precarious situation of people deprived of their liberty across the Americas.

“In Colombia, overcrowded prisons make it impossible to isolate people who may have contracted the virus. In addition, limited access to health services and hygiene products, and the lack of constant water supplies, increase the risks of exposure to infection and affect recovery conditions.

“We must leave no-one behind in the face of this pandemic. The Colombian Government must immediately implement a strategy for the prevention of infection among the prison population, including a strategy to reduce overcrowding.

“It should consider the release of people in provisional detention, and the early or conditional release of prisoners at risk.

“The authorities must carry out a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into the use of force during the control of the recent protest - and the reasons that left multiple people dead and injured - in order to guarantee access to truth, justice and reparation for the victims and their families.”

Overcrowding in Colombian prisons

According to a report by the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office, prisons in Colombia are more than 50% overcrowded. A total of 121,670 people are currently being held in Colombia's 134 prisons, when they only have a capacity of 80,763.

The National Prison Movement in Colombia has warned that an outbreak of coronavirus within the prisons would be very dangerous, since they do not have sufficient facilities or tools to ensure hygiene and other appropriate prevention measures for everyone detained.

Governments have an obligation to guarantee the right to health of all people deprived of their liberty, and to ensure that they have access to the same standards of healthcare as those available in wider society.

The Colombian Government must take all appropriate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within detention facilities and, in the event of its spread, ensure that people deprived of their liberty can access specialised medical care without complications. In addition, it should allocate specific funds and resources exclusively to guarantee the implementation of health and hygiene measures within detention centres.

To reduce prison overcrowding, the authorities should consider granting the release of people in pre-trial detention, as well as early or conditional release of prisoners at risk in the event of contagion - including older people and those suffering from underlying medical conditions or with weak immune systems.

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