Commentary: The response to COVID-19 in Peru's prisons
After a state of health emergency was declared in Peru, the Peruvian National Penitentiary Institute took measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. All visits to inmates across the country were suspended and a plan to create isolated spaces inside prisons and buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for inmates was approved.
During March and June, there were more than ten riots in various prisons across Peru, by prisoners who feared they would be infected with the virus. They also demanded more flexible laws that would allow them to be released during this time of crisis and better treatment of inmates, who had been diagnosed with COVID 19.
In April, the Peruvian government issued several laws that gave the Presidential Graces Commission more powers to prioritize access to pardons or sentence conversions for some prisoners. These included pregnant women, mothers with children in prison, older adults, people with chronic diseases and people whose sentences were about to finish. As part of this regulatory package, on June 4 the Peruvian government issued Legislative Decrees 1513 and 1514, which prioritised the release of inmates convicted for misdemeanours and promoted the use of personal electronic surveillance as an alternative to prison.
Prison overcrowding is the main problem in the Peruvian prison system. As of March 15, there were 97,345 people in prison, more than double of the maximum capacity of 40,300. However, by July 16, the prison population has been reduced to 91,580 inmates. Of this reduction of almost 6,000 inmates, only 2,000 can be attributed to the measures that have been undertaken by the Peruvian government.
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