Latin America’s Prisons Get Uglier With Coronavirus

Published in Bloomberg

By Robert Muggah

As coronavirus gales across the Americas, officials from Mexico to Chile have puzzled over how to keep millions locked down at home. Lately, however, another social engineering nightmare has been haunting medical experts and public health officials: How to keep Latin America’s 1.4 million-strong prison population from harm.

A lullaby heard in some governing circles is that safeguarding jails is a lesser problem. As prisoners, by definition, are already locked down, no one has to cajole, exhort or shame them into quarantine. In theory, any hint of illness behind the walls can be quickly identified, isolated and contained by sending the afflicted to a separate cell block. What’s more, as prison populations tend to be younger than the population at large — the overwhelming majority of them under age 40 — they are arguably less vulnerable to a disease known for ravaging the elderly.

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