Press release

Civil Society Lawsuit Accuses Mexican State Government of COVID-19 Mismanagement in Prisons

November 13, 2020
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NEW YORK—On November 11, the district court of Morelos admitted a lawsuit against the governor of the state of Morelos, the Mexican Ministry of Health, and other state authorities for failing to enact measures to properly manage and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the state prison system. The lawsuit was filed by the Mexican civil society organization Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez (Centro Prodh), who partnered with the Open Society Justice Initiative to jointly develop legal arguments.

The lawsuit addresses the absence of COVID-19 guidelines and policies on activities including prisoner releases and alternatives to detention, the provision of medical care, the enactment of physical distancing and other preventive measures, investigations into deaths in custody, and the management of the bodies in cases of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 deaths. Centro Prodh and the Justice Initiative argue that, by failing to develop and enact COVID-19 policies, federal and state governments are in violation of international and domestic laws regarding their obligations toward incarcerated individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Governments don’t just have a moral imperative to stop the spread of COVID-19 behind bars, but also a legal one,” said Ina Zoon, senior policy officer at the Justice Initiative. “Mexico has been particularly hard-hit by the virus. The government must do everything in its power to prevent transmission among the prison population, which will also help alleviate the virus’ spread among the general population.”

“Faced with the worsening COVID-19 situation in prisons, which has been widely documented, the government of the state of Morelos has not taken effective action to deal with the situation. This includes a failure to release detainees, especially people who are in risk groups from COVID-19, through the use of existing legislation,” added Melissa Zamora, an attorney with Centro Prodh. “This continues to put those at risk of developing complications from COVID-19 in life-threatening danger.”

Mexico’s prisons are a potential epicenter for the spread of COVID-19, with more than 1, 500 COVID-19 cases in the penitentiary system already reported. Close to 200, 000 people are currently incarcerated in Mexico, and overcrowding has reached such critical levels that in some prisons, inmates have no other choice but to sleep in shifts.

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