Latin American countries have been grappling with the problem of stopping the spread of Covid-19 among persons deprived of liberty (PPL). A total of 70% of all prison systems in Latin American have released some inmates to relieve overcrowded prisons which, in some cases, run at 300% of capacity. But this measure has not been enough to improve the situation caused by the pandemic and has had an impact on the normal operation of prisons.
EL PAcCTO has focused on minimising the negative impact of Covid-19 on the region’s prison system. The activities and initiatives planned are still being implemented, albeit virtually in the fight against transnational organised crime, seeking to control the current situation and coordinate prison systems and the ministries of health. It is also stimulating reflection on the need to have contingency plans against this and future pandemics that include collaboration protocols between institutions.
A contingency plan with European best practices
On 11 November, the directors of twelve Latin American countries met virtually to share the lessons learned and talk about most important measures against the pandemic in Europe. The discussion focused on cooperation between prisons and health organisations when managing emergencies and identified the available instruments and capacity to respond to an outbreak.
In addition, response protocols adapted to different scenarios in the face of the pandemic have been developed, and guidelines were presented focused on the formulation of a Contingency Plan prepared by two Latin American experts that compiles the Italian and European best practices in the management of the pandemic in prisons.
A three-step plan to deal with Covid-19 and CTO infiltration of prisons
The Contingency Plan provides for training of health and security personnel and persons deprived of liberty on the basic rules to apply to contain the spread of a virus within a prison. It sets out to identify three possible risk scenarios related to the coronavirus in prisons: green alert (maximum level of infection from staff and the prison population below 10%), yellow level (infection rate between 10 and 20%) and red level (infection rate of more than 20%).
It is explained that in the case of a green scenario, the guidelines foresee the preparation of a Prevention and Mitigation Protocol based on the availability and allocation of physical space for the population and resources to maintain safe distancing between people. In this case, priority is given to alternative measures to imprisonment, awareness and communication strategies are implemented within the institution, and an analysis is made of the extraordinary regulatory measures to be applied by the courts.
In the case of a yellow scenario, the Prevention and Response Protocol is applied to prevent the spread of the disease that adds improving hygiene, rapid detection of symptoms, application of social distancing and adapted visitation rules, prioritising telephone contact and virtual communication.
And, finally, in the case of a red scenario, the Response Protocol is applied to contain the infection, which provides for the quarantine and isolation of all the closest contacts of persons testing positive for Covid-19, the application of clinical control measures for incarcerated persons, constant disinfection of all areas and the suspension of family visits and transfers of inmates.
Italian experts sharing their experiences
The meeting was attended by the deputy head of the Italian Department of Prison Administration (Dap), Roberto Tartaglia, who explained the Italian experience in the company of the head of Health at the Regina Coeli detention centre in Rome. The two have stressed that transnational exchanges of experiences and cooperation is the only viable way to make delicate decisions to gradually return to normality within prisons.
Giovanni Tartaglia Polcini, coordinator of the prison component of EL PAcCTO, concluded the meeting by explaining that the Contingency Plan is a tool available to countries to prepare specific protocols for immediate response to emergencies: “This has been a very big challenge so far, because prisons were extremely dangerous in the Covid-19 emergency, but so far the system has been maintained despite some initial problems,” explained Tartaglia.