Prison contagion in Americas 'deeply worrying', U.N. says

GENEVA (Reuters) - Overcrowded, unhygienic prisons in Latin America and the spread of the new coronavirus both in regional prisons and in the United States are a source of “major concern”, the U.N. rights office (OHCHR) said on Tuesday.

In some cases, fear of infection has led to riots, killing dozens of inmates in Venezuela, Peru and Colombia in recent weeks. OHCHR called for prompt, independent investigations into these incidents.

“In many countries of Latin America, you have really serious overcrowding,” OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville told a Geneva briefing, referring to the trend as “deeply worrying”.

“It’s a chronic problem across the continent and in some cases it can be deadly,” he said.

In some places, overcapacity levels are as high as 500 percent, a U.N. official said, adding that new detentions due to violations of COVID-19 measures in places like Peru have exacerbated this.

The U.N. has already voiced concern over hundreds of thousands of people arrested or detained for quarantine violations.

Asked about the situation in U.S jails, he said that thousands of cases of infections in prison were a “major concern”, naming specifically New York and Chicago. But he said that some progress had been made with releases of prisoners incarcerated for secondary crimes.

The United States ordinarily has a prison population of 2.3 million people.

Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama