HomeNewsBriefCoronavirus Could Worsen Health Crisis in Venezuela Prisons
BRIEF

Coronavirus Could Worsen Health Crisis in Venezuela Prisons

COVID AND CRIME / 6 APR 2020 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

A prisoners rights’ group says about a quarter of inmate deaths in Venezuela’s police holding cells in 2019 were due to tuberculosis and other treatable illnesses, revealing the deadly risk this population now faces from coronavirus. 

About 170 prisoners died in pre-trial detention centers, or cells in police stations throughout Venezuela that are largely overcrowded, according to the 2019 annual report by Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window to Liberty – UVL), a non-governmental organization focused on prisoners’ rights.

Of these deaths, 46 were of treatable diseases, including 22 who died of tuberculosis, an infection of the lungs. Violence was the second most common cause of death.

SEE ALSO: Coronavirus Lays Bare Faultlines of Latin American Prisons

The spread of disease in the jails is hastened by poor sanitary conditions, severe overcrowding, and the mixing of sick and healthy individuals, UVL reported. The group also found high levels of malnutrition among inmates. Of some 6,000 inmates held in the 239 detention centers included in the report, over 1,100 had reportedly been sick in 2019.

Now, inmates could be at even higher risk from coronavirus.

On March 14, Venezuelan authorities suspended family visits at police holding cells and subsequently, at prisons. The problem is that family members customarily provide food, water and medicines to their loved ones in the country’s jails. 

Carolina Girón, Director of the Venezuelan Prison Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones – OVP), said that inmates are provided a single meal a day, and that it consists of pasta water, some cooked grains or an arepa (a type of maize bread).

As of April 5, Venezuela had officially registered 159 cases of coronavirus and seven deaths. But with other countries in the region registering far more cases, including about 1,500  confirmed cases in Colombia and 3,600 in Ecuador, the situation in Venezuela may be far worse.

InSight Crime Analysis

Massive delays in moving inmates has essentially led to a parallel prison system within Venezuela’s police station holding cells, which are supposed to hold individuals for no more than 48 hours. 

In addition to being unsanitary and overcrowded, the jails lack ventilation, access to sunlight, potable water and trash collection, all of which can further the spread of infectious diseases.

SEE ALSO: Prison Mafia in Venezuela is Not Just the ‘Pranes’: Carlos Nieto

Despite having suspended family visits due to the coronavirus pandemic, authorities at some pre-trial detention facilities are reportedly allowing families to bring in food, water and medicine, according to El Pitazo. This enhances the likelihood of contamination.

As of late March, the Venezuelan government had not provided any directives on how to tackle coronavirus outbreaks in the country’s prisons. Carlos Nieto Palma, the general coordinator of UVL, said prison officials are likely unprepared.

“If they have not cared for those suffering from tuberculosis, despite there being mechanisms to do so, I do not think they will do anything if they are hit by the coronavirus,” he told news organization El Pitazo.

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 31 MAY 2016

Venezuela has seen the highest number of deaths and injuries from grenades in Latin America over the past three years,…

VENEZUELA / 2 MAY 2012

President Hugo Chavez's administration is seeking to discredit an ex-Supreme Court judge turned DEA informant. But there are good reasons…

EL SALVADOR / 25 JUL 2018

Lawmakers in Nicaragua recently approved an anti-terrorism law that many fear will be used to criminalize the opposition amid a…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Strategic Communications Manager Job Description

12 FEB 2021

InSight Crime is looking for a full-time strategic communications manager. This person needs to be able to work in a fast-paced world of daily news, high-profile investigations, national and international…

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …