Angolan authorities have released nearly 1900 people in pretrial detention to help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic to the nation’s prisons. While the release of detainees will reduce prison overcrowding, it is not enough to avoid a health disaster.
In April, Interior Minister Eugénio César Laborinho visited prisons across the country to assess their capability to handle Covid-19 cases. He expressed concerns over the prisons’ inadequate capacity to quarantine newly arrived inmates.
Nevertheless, Angola’s police continue to detain and place hundreds of people in custody for low-level crimes, leading to a daily influx of new detainees. If not appropriately quarantined and monitored for Covid-19, these new arrivals could contribute to an outbreak in the prison system that prison authorities are ill-equipped to treat.
On May 1, police released data showing that almost 300 people had been detained in 24 hours for violating state of emergency rules that Angola’s parliament has extended to May 10.
Almost half of Angola’s prison population are detainees awaiting trial, according to data released by the Angolan authorities last year. Many are being held for low-level offenses or have been kept in prison on fabricated charges such as for exercising their right to peaceful protest.
Angola has recorded 35 cases of Covid-19, with 2 deaths. So far there have been no confirmed cases in prisons. To protect those who remain behind bars, the Angolan government should quickly ensure that the over 25,000 prisoners across the country are given sufficient clean water, hygiene products, protective equipment, including facial masks, and medical care.
Furthermore, the government needs to take bolder steps and release more pretrial detainees to prevent a major Covid-19 crisis in the overcrowded prisons. The government should consider alternatives to jail time and avoid detaining people for nonviolent or minor offenses, including those who violate the state of emergency law.