Three prison inmates die from coronavirus as government fails to act

Three prison inmates in the city of Villavicencio have died from coronavirus, with dangerous conditions in Colombia’s overcrowded prisons threatening the lives of all those who are encarcerated or employed there. In addition to the three deaths, a guard at the Distrital prison in Bogota has tested positive for coronavirus.

Since the coronavirus crisis began, human rights groups and the families of prisoners have called on the Colombian government to take urgent action to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Several social media posts have shown severe overcrowding inside prisons.

On 21 March, at least 23 inmates at La Modelo prison in Bogota were killed after security forces repressed protests over dreadful conditions that increase the risk of coronavirus. Human rights groups said prison guards and police fired indiscriminately upon inmates.

In response to the massacre, Justice Minister Maragarita Cabello said she would issue a decree to release up to 10,000 inmates to ease the burden on the prison system. So far, however, this has not been enacted.

On 7 April, inmates staged protests in various Colombian prisons, accusing the government of failing to implement protective measures against coronavirus. In addition to demanding an emergency response to the prison crisis, protesters called for those behind the La Modelo massacre to be held to account and for the INPEC penal authorities to cancel all operations inside prisons. They also reiterated the demand for elderly prisoners, non-violent offenders and vulnerable inmates to be granted reduced sentences or house detention.