Peru frees 1,500 inmates out of fear of COVID-19

Peru has freed 1,500 inmates over the past two months to ease overcrowding in prisons that have seen riots and deaths from the coronavirus.

The announcement of the freeing of people serving time for minor offenses was made in a weekend statement by Justice Minister Fernando Castaneda.

On April 14, the government pledged to free 3,000 prisoners to ease overcrowding.

Peru has the second-most coronavirus cases in Latin America after Brazil, reporting 229,736. It is third in deaths after Brazil and Mexico, with 6,688.

Inmates fearing contagion with the virus in jam-packed prisons have staged several riots in Peru. The last of these came on May 19 in the south of the country, and left 14 prisoners and guards injured.

The government says at least 212 inmates have died of COVID-19 and at least 67 are being treated for it in hospitals.

Another 15 prison guards have died of the disease and 17 have been hospitalized. Hundreds more have resigned, fearing infection.

In the worst prison riot, nine inmates died in an uprising in late April at a prison near Lima. A total of 67 prisoners, guards and police were injured.

The Justice Ministry says 97,000 people are in prison in Peru — representing roughly double the capacity of the country’s 68 prisons.