The coronavirus is sweeping through one of the world’s largest and most vulnerable populations – prisoners. Experts are warning if there are not efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, the population at large will be unsafe. Panic among the world’s incarcerated populations has led to strikes, protest, escapes and, in some places, deadly riots.

Medical experts advise that regular hand washing, maintaining social distance, disinfecting surfaces and seeking prompt medical attention if symptoms begin are effective ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But those healthcare tips are difficult to observe for those behind bars. There are more than 10 million men, women and children in prisons worldwide and facilities are overcrowded in at least 121 countries, according to a 2019 report on global prison trends. Prisoners often share cells, space is at a premium in shared canteens and bathrooms, and it is difficult for inmates to practise effective hygiene.

In March, the World Health Organization published their guidelines on how to keep prisoners safe. It recommended taking regular temperature checks of inmates, releasing detainees where possible, and eliminating visits. In the next episode of the Stream at Home, we will look at how prisons can prevent some of society’s least valued people from coronavirus infections.

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