The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the health inequities within our societies, and particularly in prisons. Across the world, overcrowded prison systems have failed to protect the life and health of people deprived of liberty. Through four case studies that focus on the response to the pandemic in Colombia, Indonesia, Ireland, and Kenya, this briefing identifies several lessons from the ongoing crisis.
- Many countries that implemented measures to release people from prison failed to simultaneously halt the disproportionate imprisonment of people for drug offences, thus undermining attempts to reduce prison overcrowding.
- In most cases, states responded to the pandemic by isolating prisons from the community. As a result, people deprived of liberty have been unable to access the most basic legal, health, and drug services. In many countries, this also means that people in prison cannot receive the food, clothes, and money regularly provided by their families.
- Before COVID-19, there was already a dramatic lack of appropriate drug treatment and harm reduction services in prisons. Even were such services existed, people in prison have experienced serious restrictions in accessing them during the pandemic.
- Community integration programmes have failed to support people released from prison during the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon release, formerly incarcerated people have faced severe challenges, including exclusion from the formal economy, social stigma, and exploitation.
This briefing is published by the International Drug Policy Consortium, together with Penal Reform International, Harm Reduction International, LBH Masyarakat, and Reprieve.
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