Colombia to put 4,000 prisoners on house arrest to curb coronavirus spread in jails

Colombia to put 4,000 prisoners on house arrest to curb coronavirus spread in jails
  • Clock-gray 23:45
  • calendar-gray 15 April 2020

 Colombia will temporarily release some 4,000 prisoners to house arrest in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the justice minister said on Wednesday, APA reports citing Reuters.

Additional people may be released in the coming days, Justice Minister Margarita Cabello said in a video news conference.

Two people recently released from a prison in the central city of Villavicencio died after contracting the coronavirus. Thirteen other prisoners, two guards and an administrator in the same institution also have confirmed coronavirus infections.

“We analyzed the projections to get to the highest number of prisoners who could benefit,” Cabello said. “But I have to be realistic, no measure that I could take is going to guarantee 100% that we will avoid infection.”

Living in close quarters under crowded conditions makes prison populations especially vulnerable to the spread of the sometimes deadly virus.

The measure is directed at prisoners who are pregnant, disabled or over age 60, women prisoners with children under age three, and those with cancer, diabetes or cardiac problems - conditions that often lead to bad outcomes if they contract the virus.

 

Prisoners who have sentences of up to five years and who have completed 40% of their sentences are also eligible for the house arrest program, according to a government decree.

The house arrest measure will last six months.

Those convicted of sexual violence against children, war crimes, crimes against humanity, drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption are not eligible. Neither are prisoners with pending international extradition requests.

Visits to prisoners by the public have been banned since mid-March in an effort to control COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the new virus that has killed nearly 130 Colombians.

As in many countries in Latin America, Colombia’s jails are massively overcrowded. The country’s 132 prisons have an 81,000-inmate capacity but house more than 121,000, according to government figures.

A prison riot last month in the capital Bogota left 23 prisoners dead and 83 injured, as detainees protested sanitary conditions amid the global outbreak of coronavirus.

Cabello said at the time the unrest was “a mass criminal escape attempt” and denied any sanitary problems.

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