Sri Lanka’s overcrowded jails tense over COVID 19

Originally published by Arjuna Ranawana – Economy Next on 26/03/2020


The article notes that Sri Lanka’s overcrowded jails and tensions resulting from the threat of COVID-19 entering the jails has raised anxiety to a new level and placed jailors and inmates on edge. These tensions resulted in two deaths when jail guards opened fire on inmates to quell a riot that grew out of an inmate protest.The incident began because of the restrictions the jail placed on visits to the inmates by close relatives as a measure to control the spread of COVID-19. It is often alleged that due to corruption in the prisons, the quantity of food that the Department provides inmates is grossly insufficient and it requires food from home to keep the inmates adequately fed.Sri Lankan prisons also generally suffer from overcrowding. Presently, the premier jail, Welikada houses over 5,000 inmates in a space built during colonial times to accommodate 850. In Kegalle, there are 800 inmates in a facility meant for 300. Therefore, it is impossible for prisoners to practice social distancing and if someone who is infected is detained, then the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions could cause to coronavirus to spread quickly. As a result, on March 16th, the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) submitted a paper to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa calling for the release of certain groups of prisoners to ease the overcrowding. These groups included those who could not pay a small fine, those who could not afford to post bail or meet other bail conditions and others who were ill or over 72.

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