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Deaths soar in Mexico’s prisons

In the first half of 2020, deaths within federal and state prisons increased 143% compared to the same period last year, according to the Decentralized Administrative Body for Prevention and Social Rehabilitation (OADPRS).

Official figures reveal that between January and June 2019, 191 deaths of persons deprived of liberty were registered; however, in 2020 the number grew to 464.

Although this number is available, the OADPRS does not break down the reasons why inmates died.

Given this situation, specialists in the penitentiary system urged the authorities to make the causes of death transparent, as this would allow all levels of government and civil society to intervene in the problem.

According to the OADPRS, the deaths of inmates rebounded from May of this year. At that time the number of incidents rose to 147 and in June it was 151. Previously, between January and April, deaths had ranged between 23 and 49.

Mexico City is where there have been more cases, with 116; they are followed by Baja California, with 43; Puebla, 36; Veracruz, 34; Chihuahua, 27; Sonora, 27; Jalisco, 24; Guerrero, 22; Morelos, 20, and Tabasco, 17.

Entities such as Mexico City and Baja California are some of those that have reported a higher growth in deaths this year compared to 2019.

Covid-19, possible cause. Although it is impossible to know the exact reason for the death of people deprived of liberty, experts consulted for this work indicated that Covid-19 could be a determining factor.

Sofía Talamantes, coordinator of Documenta’s Penitentiary System and Social Reintegration Program, indicated: “The situation is already really critical in prisons because Covid-19 infections continue to increase and deaths as well.”

Documenta is an organization specialized in the prison system and has frequent contact with inmates and their families. Through these approaches, she has learned how Covid-19 got into prisons and the effects it has had on its population.

“What did these people die of? We do not know, but what is most worrying is that given this opacity we will never know the reasons and we need to demand that there be accountability,” he emphasized.

He added that this opacity is not only in terms of deaths, but also about infections. As an example, he recalled that in mid-July the government of Mexico City reported that in its prisons there were more than a thousand infections, a figure up to 13 times higher than what they had been reporting since March.

Sofía Talamantes asserted that with the ongoing health emergency, the health of the inmates could be at even greater risk.

“We must continue to emphasize that prison conditions continue to pose a risk to people deprived of their liberty. Factors such as overcrowding and the lack of medical personnel mean that the prisons continue to be infected and that people are not treated” , he assured.

According to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), until August 11, in Mexican prisons there were 2,76 confirmed infections and 185 deaths from Covid-19 or suspected of this disease.

Prisons were not ready

On July 20, it was reported that half of the prisons that already had a Covid-19 contagion had failures in their health services, a situation that could leave those who are in these spaces vulnerable.

Fernanda González, director of Children, Youth and Prison of Reinserta, agrees that the coronavirus was possibly a factor that triggered the increase in deaths in prisons, and this would be possible due to the poor conditions they already suffered.

“The situation of each penitentiary center and each state is different; however, in general the attention to the problem has been deficient. The world was not prepared for an emergency like this and the penitentiary system was definitely not either,” he said.

The expert lists some factors by which she believes that Covid-19 could have an impact on the health of the prison population: there has been no timely attention to positive cases, medical supplies and cleaning supplies are slow to arrive, there are no conditions isolation, hygiene measures are few or null in some cases, there is a lack of infrastructure and personnel, and there is overcrowding and overcrowding.

Calls for greater transparency on the issue, since “information has been hidden,” he said.