ID: COV-014 03 Nov 2020

Assessing the Effects of COVID-19 in Prisons in the Northern Triangle of Central America

This article examines the impact of COVID-19 on penitentiary systems in the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala (the Northern Triangle). Despite similar conditions in terms of crowding, lack of personal protective equipment, and infrastructure deficiencies, the neighboring countries have implemented distinctly different approaches to managing their incarcerated populations. In Honduras, in recognition of the elevated risks to certain inmates, nearly 2,000 prisoners were released in the early stages of the contagion. In El Salvador, President Bukele capitalized on the COVID crisis to implement curfews and national lockdowns to ensure conditions approaching martial law, declaring extreme security steps to address gang violence, while claiming incarcerated gang leaders were behind the increased violence. In Guatemala, the President Giammattei, a medical doctor, recognized prisons as epicenters of focus for reducing transmission rates and quickly advanced plans to contain a much larger outbreak. Using data collected from public media sources and in-depth qualitative interviews with prison administrators and staff, we provide a descriptive overview of the COVID impacts in these countries and consider possible longer-term prison policy implications. (COV-014)

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