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Open Letter: Family members of people deprived of liberty in Mexico in the face of COVID-19

FairTrialsAdmin - April 6, 2020 - COVID-19 Updates, Prison conditions, Prisoner releases

Written by Centro de Atención Integral de Familiares con Personas Privadas de la Libertad (CAIFAM), de Documenta A.C.

Mexico City, March 31 2020

It is widely known that the Mexican prison system has serious structural problems and that all the deficiencies and omissions caused by this reality affect, in the first place, those deprived of liberty. Nonetheless, there is a sector of society that is invisible to many people, yet, it is essential for the sustenance and organization of life in prison: the relatives of the people deprived of liberty.

It is us, the families, who make up for what the State is obliged to guarantee.

In Mexico, the Ley Nacional de Ejecución Penal “LNP” (National Law of Criminal Execution) establishes that every person deprived of liberty must have access to preventive medical assistance and health care treatment, as well as access to their basic needs, such as, toiletries, drinking water, and sufficient dietary and nutritional requirements. However, the reality is very different.

As a result of the omission and negligence of the State, we, the families are the ones who guarantee that our relatives have access to the most basic personal hygiene supplies, such as soap, shampoo, deodorants, chlorine, food, water, medicines, personal and bed clothes, as well as other necessary utensils for daily life. In addition, we must buy the materials they need for professional training programs, educational and sport activities.

Taking on this responsibility undoubtedly has an impact on every fiber of our family nucleus: it directly affects our economy, highlights the importance of taking care of our mental health and modifies our daily activities, occupations and responsibilities.

The new health crisis caused by COVID-19 has exposed the enormous deficiencies of the national prison system. In December 2019, the Mexican government reported that the country holds over 200,900 people in prison, with more than 40% in pre-trial detention. 37% of the centers are overcrowded, 46% of inmates share a cell with more than five people, and 30% do not have access to drinking water.

These problems - just a brief sample of the structural flaws that exist in the Mexican prison system – reflect the State’s historical neglect, which is of particular importance in the midst of a pandemic, as it is a factor that exacerbates the risks. The conditions in which people deprived of liberty find themselves make them an even more vulnerable group in the face of the crisis.

Meanwhile, the State is avoiding making a clear and transparent statement on how it intends to deal with this situation, while deep uncertainty is severely affecting both, those in jail and their family members.

In view of this, we demand that relevant measures be implemented, and properly  monitored, to guarantee adequate access to health services, a sufficient supply of drinking water and the necessary supplies for the proper management of hygiene, in addition to guaranteeing access to a nutritious,  and optimal diet, as stipulated by the LNEP.

On the other hand, it is necessary that justice providers urgently apply the benefits of pre-release, in accordance with the criteria laid out in the LNEP; which states that provided a successful review of the file, early release, commutation of sentence or conditioned release to people with penalties under five years; those who have committed non-violent offenses; those who have collaborated with law enforcement; to those who can be offered amnesty by the State, and those who can be released on humanitarian grounds when it comes to convicted older adults or carriers of a chronic-degenerative or terminal disease, regardless of the time they have been serving their sentence will be allowed.

In the face of this health emergency, it is also necessary to formalize a public policy for the release of people who are in preventive detention to continue their processes in freedom (with the appropriate measures). The same should apply to pregnant women or those who live in prison with their sons and daughters.

Finally, we urge the authorities to implement a mechanism to make available current and accurate information on the state of the pandemic inside the prisons, to contribute to the peace of mind of family members, and of society as a whole.

Read the original letter in Spanish here.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please call the media team on +44 (0) 7749 785 932 or email [email protected]

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