Covid-19 and prisons: ensuring an effective response


At CHRI we believe its important for governments and prison administrators to undertake necessary precautions and measures to prevent and contain any spread of the COVID-19 to their prisons. We have prepared a resource COVID-19 & Prisons: Ensuring an Effective Response - which provides practical guidance on possible measures. One can download the resource at Covid-19 and Prisons: Ensuring an Effective Response.


Thank you so much, @mdhanuka - I’ve added this helpful resource to the list. Thank you for your invaluable work.


Hi @sylviamorwabe - it would be interesting to share how Crime Si Poa is playing an active role in mitigating the spread of COVID 19 in prisons.

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Hi Aimee.

At Crime Si Poa we believe that prisons and informal settlements are high risk and quite vulnerable areas and are taking measures to the best of our abilities to both prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 into these areas. Our main intervention at the moment is aimed towards ensuring that proper hygiene standards are practiced and maintained in these areas.

Currently for the prisons in particular, with help from our partners and other well-wishers, we have managed to;

  1. Mobilize for and donate wash stations and soap to 4 Prisons within Nairobi County and are working on making more donations this week;
  2. Mobilize for soap and tissue paper for inmates personal hygiene in 4 Prisons already and we are mobilizing for more; and
  3. Lobby for release of deserving cases under CSO (Community Service Orders) in an effort to decongest the prisons, although this is slightly hampered by inadequate number of Probation officers to supervise the sudden influx.

We are also currently working with reformed ex inmates to make soap for free distribution to the informal settlements. This not only gives them a means to earn a living that can sustain them during this period but also enables them actively contribute towards the fight against COVID-19 in their communities.

It may not be much but if we work together, each doing their bit where they can, I believe we will come out stronger and win the fight against COVID-19. #StopTheSpread


Thank you for sharing, @mdhanuka and @sylviamorwabe - both the valuable resource and your immediate approach to the situation in Kenya, respectively. Incarcerated people are a critically vulnerable population everywhere, even before the current public health circumstances took shape. I have been following the release of non-violent prisoners in a few US states recently (mentioned here in this post), but have not been seeing many headlines about action being taken for those who are locked up right now.

I would like to hear how other members are approaching this issue within the context of Covid-19, especially as we have so many network members doing such strong work with incarcerated people globally. Any strategies or insights to share with other members working with prisoners rights now?

@Tibigambwa @EhsanOarith @JohnMuthuri @chimwemwendalahoma @hayazahid @Mbami.Iliya @Nelson_Olanipekun @Ellis @panagioti @novia13 @Juves @Nethinimus @kimclaudio @mahbubaakhter @Zamil @MarinaDias @caitlinlambert @aubree @JhodyPolk

The Federal Government in Nigeria has promised to decongest it prisons. We, as an organisation, are already drawing up list of persons we feel may qualify based on relevant laws.

However, we are also focused on preventing more people from getting incarcerated.


Dear Sir,

Here are PIDI Nigeria intervention:




In Kenya, the decongestion is already underway.


Hi, Michael and other colleagues,

In Brazil there´s a chronic overcrowding inside the prisons, with more than 800.000 prisoners and a deficit of vacancies that exceeds 300.000. Besides the prisoners, there are more than 100.000 agents and other employees of detention facilities, who will be in risk of getting sick and will probably spread the virus inside and outside the prisons.
To face this reality, Institute for Defense of the Right to Defense (IDDD) has taken the following initiatives:

• On March 16th, we filed a petition at the Supreme Court in case of Action for Noncompliance with Fundamental Precept (ADPF) n°. 347/2015, in order to reduce the prison population, requiring the adoption of alternative penalties and precautionary measures for groups at risk (elderly, HIV positive, diabetics, people with tuberculosis, cancer, among other diseases susceptible to worsening from contagion by COVID-19); lactating and pregnant women; people arrested for crimes committed without violence or threats and progression of punishment for those who already live or are in the semi-open regime (attached).

• We submitted an expert opinion at the supreme court by the infectologist Marcos Boulos, Professor of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases at USP School of Medicine and Special Advisor on Infectious and Parasitic Diseases of the São Paulo State Department of Health, in which he answered questions about the effects of a pandemic may have in the prison system (attached).

• It must be highlighted that IDDD had already been qualified as amicus curiae in ADPF mentioned, which in 2015 recognized the unconstitutional state of affairs in Brazilian prison system, due to human rights violations and a degrading conditions.

• Supreme Court´s minister – ADPF´s rapporteur concluded that the judges, for both Federal and Regional Courts should adopt the measures proposed by IDDD. However, on March 17, Supreme Court voted (6 votes to 2) to overturn the decision

• We developed letters to Courts of Justice, Attorneys Office and Executive Bodies responsible for the prison system (Secretaries of Penitentiary Administration, Secretaries of Justice and Public Security Secretaries), of all Brazilian states, requesting actions and urgent measures to be taken, in order to contain the spread of the new coronavirus in prison units. This initiative was led by IDDD in partnership with the Criminal Justice Network and other local partners from different states, who also signed the document.

• We also suggested to the leadership of the Socialism and Freedom Party to present an exceptional bill in order to, during this COVID-19 epidemic crisis, try to avoid pretrial detention and also try to release inmates that are serving time. This initiative is a powerful action to reduce incarceration of people in risk groups, women and those accused of non-violent crimes. This bill includes the requests we made before STF and admissions of the socio-educational and was written with contributions from several partners.

We are beginning a prison task force with our associated lawyers in order to file petitions to the Court for the adoption of precautionary measures for pretrial detainees that belongs to risk groups. We have 80 lawyers participating in this effort.


Thank you @Nelson_Olanipekun and @Mbami.Iliya for the updates from Nigeria - please do keep us updated on your on-going efforts at decongestion.

Incredible to see that Kenya has released upwards of 5,000 inmates too @AimeeOngeso - the Skype court sessions are an interesting twist and serve as a useful model to demonstrate the practical aspects of enacting such a move within the current public health conditions.

And thank you for the detailed update from Brazil, @MarinaDias. The organizational coalition building and coordinated legal and political action you all are conducting will hopefully move Brazil closer to minimizing the risks posed to incarcerated individuals in the overpopulated system you are working within, despite the Supreme Court’s reversal. These moves, where successful, should hopefully help the communities you were working with before Covid-19, specifically the most vulnerable groups who are now at even greater risk in the current context (e.g. pregnant women, people with pre-existing conditions, the elderly). Please keep us updated on the legal actions you have pending.

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Hi Michael, Aimee, Marina and others!

Hello from Somaliland where there are only 2 confirmed cases of C-19, but because of the very weak healthcare system we decided to take an overprotective approach.

  1. With our team of paralegals who work in prisons and police stations, we implemented a work from home policy mid-March and it’s still in place. This means we aren’t in prisons/police stations currently. This was the only responsible choice we saw to protect staff and those we work with given that social distancing is unlikely to work in Somaliland. Instead, we are moving our support to prisoners and police detainees to remote work. This means:
  • Case follow up over the phone with families to empower them to assist loved ones in prison/police. And this is working pretty well. We had one case of a pregnant woman imprisoned in a police station (in Somaliland convicted persons are also held at police stations) and the paralegal on the case explained to her father what to do and when, and she was released! She is now safely at home. See attached press release which also references Brazil’s law permitting pregnant women/mothers to serve their sentences at home @MarinaDias!

  • We’ve developed a free legal assistance hotline for families who have loved ones detained to call and speak directly with our paralegals

  • Revamping our legal education content to focus on what the families of detained persons can do and rolling this our on social media and other sources

  1. We’ve also stepped up advocacy efforts. On 18 March, we called on the President to pardon/conditionally release prisoners (see attached press release) and on 1 April he pardoned 574 prisons. The prison population in Somaliland is around 2,500, so this is a good amount. We are also doing advocacy with the Chief Justice, Police Commissioner and others. We are hopeful that convicted persons in police stations will be pardoned, the use of bail will be increased, and arrest/remand will be less used.

18 March 2020 Horizon Institute Statement Calling for Protection of Detainees from COVID-19.pdf (125.8 KB)

21 March 2020 Horizon Institute Press Release on Bail of Pregnant Woman and COVID-19.pdf (128.5 KB)

It’s a challenging time for working with detained populations, but we are also hopeful that we will be able to successfully use all the stories from our casework to really push advocacy efforts. And that we will also innovate new ways of working for our paralegals so that after the pandemic we are better equipped to remotely work with rural populations.

Stay well!

Best, Caitlin


That is all very impressive, @caitlinlambert! I particularly liked reading about your progress with successful remote assistance involving families in a participatory defense style approach.

And release of upwards of 20% of incarcerated people is pretty incredible in its own right!


Hi Vivek, Michael, Aimee, @MarinaDias, and others!

The fight continues in Somaliland. The victory of releasing 574 prisoners with the 1 April pardon was quickly overshadowed by people who were convicted and serving their sentences in police stations being transferred to the prisons. In short, the situation of overcrowding in Somaliland’s prisons remains the same.

Today we’ve called on the President to issue another pardon. See attached. We are hopeful this will have an impact and our advocacy efforts will continue.

Hope you’re all doing well!

Best, Caitlin

PS: Copying in my comrade Idiris. @idiris151

13 April 2020 Statement from Horizon Institute Calling for Additional Measures in Prisons_Police Stations to Stop COVID-19.pdf (156.3 KB)


Hi Micheal and all, Just wanted to share some exciting news that working remotely and focusing on providing family members step-by-step guidance on how to help detainees is working for the Horizon’s paralegals - our team released 129 individuals from police/prison detention in April!



In view of the increases COVID-19 cases in Indian prisons the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India issued an advisory on 2nd May 2020. This advisory titled “Management of COVID-19 in Indian Prisons’ which includes guidelines and protocols which may be followed while dealing with persons arrested, detained and those in Prisons. CHRI has in furtherance of our endeavour to strengthen prison administration’s response to COVID-19, converted the measures as mentioned in the Advisory in the form of a Checklist to enable the prison head office to internally monitor the conditions of all prisons in their respective states/UTs periodically.

CHRI believes that it could prove to be an important tool for internal monitoring of prisons, particularly at a time when inspections by senior prison officers may not be taking place as frequently as usual.

While this checklist is based on the MHA Advisory issued for India, I believe this can easily be adapted to suit other jurisdictions. Thus I am sharing this here for wider dissemination and outreach. I hope that all organisations can stress upon the need to effectively monitor prisons during these times, and this will be a useful resource.

Please download it here.



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