September 15, 2020

How Belize Prison is Effectively Combatting Coronavirus

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University and
Virgilio Murillo, Chief Executive Officer, Kolbe Foundation, Belize Central Prison

Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Belize Central Prison and with the prison’s CEO Virgilio Murillo. In January, before the coronavirus pandemic struck, I visited the prison to train the 250 prison employees on how to respond to riots, hostage-taking situations, and escapes.

I continue to be amazed by the excellent management practices at the prison despite its limited financial resources. In the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic, Belize Central Prison continues to set exemplary practices that have resulted in the prison having had no positive coronavirus cases.

[Related: Belize Central: A Model for Central American Prisons]

In comparison, as of August 4, at least 86,639 prison inmates in the United States had tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 804 inmates had died from coronavirus-related causes. Of course, the prison population in the United States is substantially larger than the prison population in Belize, a nation of about 390,000 citizens.

Coronavirus Is Causing Prison Problems throughout the Americas

Throughout the Americas, the coronavirus is causing problems in prisons, unrest and deaths. According to Equal Times, since the pandemic began, more than 1,000 inmates escaped from prisons in Brazil; five inmates have died in riots in Argentina, and 47 inmates died in one day at the Los Llanos prison in Venezuela.

In March, a prison riot over coronavirus concerns erupted at the La Modelo Prison in Bogotá, which resulted in 23 inmates dead, 83 injured, and seven prison officers injured. However, such conflicts and unrest have been avoided at the Belize Central Prison.

Background on Belize Central PrisonThe

In August of 2002, the non-profit Christian Kolbe Foundation took over management of the Belize Central Prison because the prison was in deplorable condition with 300 beds for 900 inmates. There were 50 prison escapes a year, juveniles were housed with adults putting them at risk of exploitation, and there was no clean running water within the prison.

When the Kolbe Foundation took over, there was a total transformation. In addition to substantial infrastructure improvements, a faith-based rehabilitation approach resulted in one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, which is around 10 percent at the Belize Central Prison.

Counseling and church services occur daily along with trade skills training in agriculture, electrical work, woodworking, and many other areas that prepare inmates to successfully integrate back into society following their release. Most inmates turn away from criminal behavior and some former inmates are even now employed by the prison as staff and guards.

There is a sense of calmness and mutual respect between inmates and staff because of the proper effective treatment the inmates receive. All this has been accomplished with limited resources. Belize Central Prison receives only $7 per day per inmate from the Belize government. This is in comparison to the average cost of incarceration for U.S. federal inmates, which can be as high as $99.45 per day.

Kolbe Foundation Approach to the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for the prison. Limited healthcare services in the nation and financial restrictions put inmates at a high risk of vulnerability to the disease.

Challenges for the prison are likely to persist because of the increase of incarceration rates of illegal immigrants and persons for violating the Belize COVID-19 State of Emergency regulations.

In response to the pandemic, the prison has implemented mandatory handwashing, wearing of face masks, and non-contact temperature checks for everyone visiting the prison. High traffic areas within the prison are constantly disinfected including all surfaces, equipment, and staff vehicles. Social distancing is maintained and handwashing stations are strategically placed throughout the prison. Posters and the prison’s radio station educate the prisoners about the disease. Newly admitted inmates are placed in isolation for 14 days.

Positive Outcomes from the Pandemic at the Prison

Interestingly, the pandemic has had some positive outcomes for the prison. For example, it has created a good opportunity to provide health education to staff and inmates, increasing proper hygiene practices. That has resulted in a commitment by both inmates and staff to adapt a healthier lifestyle.

Despite a 9.3% increase in the inmate population, the pandemic has resulted in a significant reduction in incidents in the prison such as conflicts between inmates or between inmates and staff. There is also an unusual level of teamwork and unity between staff and inmates to combat the virus and to keep it out of the prison. Inmates have gained new skills in making masks, which are being produced within the prison and are available to the public.

Challenges for the Prison and Opportunities to Provide Support

The Caribbean Community Implementing Agency for Crime and Security provided the prison with some COVID-19 specific personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies. However, once the stock is exhausted the prison is at risk of not being able to effectively prevent or mitigate an outbreak of COVID-19. To help keep inmates and staff safe from the coronavirus, the prison needs sanitizing supplies (Clorox, hand-sanitizers, liquid soap, among others), disposable face masks, N-95 masks, Hazmat suits, face-shields, and disposable gloves.

The full article can be found here: