Virus spreads fear, shaking through Latin America’s unruly prisons


In this photo released by the El Salvador Presidency Press Office, inmates are lined up during a security operation under the watch of police at the Izalco prison in San Salvador, El Salvador, Saturday, April 25, 2020. Authorities crammed the prisoners, albeit wearing masks, tightly together in prison yards while searching their cells. President Nayib Bukele ordered the crackdown after more than 20 people were murdered in the country Friday and intelligence suggested the orders came from imprisoned gang leaders. (El Salvador President Press Office via AP)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The spreading specter of the new coronavirus is shaking Latin America’s notoriously overcrowded, unruly prisons.

The Puente Alto prison in Chile’s capital has had the largest of Latin America’s largest prison virus outbreaks so far, with more than 300 reported cases.

Latin America’s prisons hold 1.5 million inmates, and the facilities are often quasi-ruled by prisoners themselves because of corruption, intimidation and inadequate guard staffs.

There is often little soap and water and cell blocks are crowded. So far, national officials have reported close to 1,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates and prison staff around the region.

(Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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