Prisoners Riot Amidst the Coronavirus Epidemic
Prisoners across the globe are protesting against prison conditions during the coronavirus epidemic.
The coronavirus epidemic has spread to the far reaches of the globe, and is infecting people from all walks of life. The virus has been especially difficult to manage in residences and institutions that house a large number of people in close proximity with one another.
One type of institution that features a dense population of residents is prisons. Prisoners across the globe are suffering the effects of coronavirus due to lack of safety measures taken by prison officials.
These prisoners are often housed in quarters so close to each other that the virus is able to engulf the facility within a matter of days. However, the virus isn’t just spreading between prisoners. Many prison guards and officials worldwide have also tested positive for COVID-19.
In many cases, the safety of these prisoners isn’t considered a priority, so prison officials have not bothered to take safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus between prisoners.
In other cases, prison facilities may not possess the resources to take appropriate safety measures. To protect prisoners against the coronavirus, prison officials would have to separate each one and house them individually so that they are at least 6 feet away from each other.
These changes would also have to be implemented on short-notice to prevent the virus from spreading at the swift rate it is currently proceeding at.
Some prisons have adopted the best safety measures they could on short-notice. These include banning visitors from meeting inmates, shutting down gyms and basketball courts, and even preventing prisoners from showering indoors.
In some cases, civilian staff were restricted from entering the facility, so that the only people inside the prison were prisoners and guards.
Many prisoners were displeased with these measures, which appeared to be rushed and poorly thought out. Some of these prisoners responded by lashing out at prison officials and rioting to express their discontent.
For many inmates, the notion of being unable to see their families and loved ones during visiting hours was incredibly upsetting. The Coronavirus epidemic has put many people on edge, so it’s understandable that some of society’s most-downtrodden members would lash out after losing the few privileges they had left.
Prisoner riots due to COVID-19 have been reported in multiple countries including the US, Indonesia, and Colombia.
Prison riots in Indonesia
In many instances, these riots occurred due to lack of virus testing for prisoners. For example, rumors had spread of a prison guard who had tested positive for COVID-19 at a prison in Indonesia.
Following the spread of this rumor, many prisoners at the facility asked to be tested for the virus, but their requests were denied by prison officials. This led to a prison riot breaking out in which prisoners set fire to buildings.
Hundreds of police officers and soldiers were called to put down the riot using live ammunition, and one prisoner was shot in the chest during these riot control measures.
Prison riots in Columbia
A more deadly incident occurred in March 2020 when prisoners at Colombia’s La Modelo prison attempted to stage a mass escape attempt that was driven by coronavirus fears. La Modelo is known to be one of the most overcrowded prisons in the world, with many prisoners complaining about unsanitary living conditions.
These conditions drove prisoners to riot and attempt to escape from the facility. The riots left 23 prisoners dead and 83 injured. Prison officials stated that none of the prisoners were able to escape the facility.
Some countries have chosen to release prisoners from their prisons due to being unable to stop the spread of the coronavirus at the facilities.
Around 4000 low-risk prisoners were released from prisons in England and Wales in an order to reduce prisoner density at facilities. These prisoners were electronically tagged before release and can be recalled if any concerns arise.
The move was spurred by concerns of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) becoming overwhelmed if COVID-19 were to spread in UK prisons.
California recently announced that it would release 3500 non-violent inmates between April and May. New York city’s mayor Bill de Blasio had also announced that the city had released 900 inmates as of March 31st.
These measures may seem extreme, but they are also a response to extreme circumstances given the rapid rate at which COVID-19 spreads. For example, the number of coronavirus cases at Cook County’s jail rose from 2 to 134 within just 10 days.
Combating COVID-19 in prisons
Many activists worldwide have called on their governments to improve prison conditions and protect prisoners from the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published interim guidance on how to deal with the coronavirus disease in prisons and other places of detention called “Preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention”
The guide provides staff and healthcare providers with information on working in prisons during the pandemic. It teaches them how to prevent and respond to a disease outbreak while respecting the human rights of the prisoners at the detention facility. This information could be valuable for ensuring that prisoners are treated well during the implementation of safety procedures.
Such information is also useful for keeping medical staff safe while working at these facilities. Safety should be a top priority for these workers due to not just the virus, but due to the agitated state of prisoners during this time.
Caution needs to be exercised by everyone working at these facilities to ensure that they can continue to operate properly during the pandemic.
Despite all the issues COVID-19 has caused to institutions around the globe, it may be the catalyst that drives prison reform in many countries. Prison systems have not been updated in many places, and the current crisis may have provided prison owners and operators with the push they needed to finally update their facilities.