A group of inmates await their call to be transferred to new penitentiary centers at the Chalatenango Criminal Security Center in El Salvador. (Free Press Photo: .)

On Thursday, a prison surveillance court in El Salvador asked explanations from the General Directorate of Penal Centers (DGCP) and the Ministry of Health for the spread of covid-19 from 58 inmates with “mental illness”.

According to the Judicial Branch, the Third Court of Penitentiary Surveillance and Execution of the San Salvador Penalty installed a special hearing to “hear cases of covid-19 infections in the ward of inmates with mental illnesses of the National Psychiatric Hospital.”

The head of the DGCP, Osiris Luna, and the Minister of Health, Francisco Alabí, were called to appear, only Luna sent a legal representative.

“The Minister of Health did not appear at the hearing, nor did he present any type that justified his absence,” the judicial source said.

The secretary of said court, who did not want to be identified, indicated that the reason why “these people have not been transferred to other places” was questioned.

“The authorities of the Psychiatric Hospital expressed that it has been because they have exceeded their response capacity and because of the response,” he said.

Local press reports indicate that there are 50 infected men and 8 women, bringing the number of covid-19 cases inside prisons to 108.

The rest of the infected prisoners are in the Quezaltepeque prison (11), where only gang members are held, and San Vicente (39).

Photograph courtesy of the Presidency of El Salvador showing inmates during a security inspection at the Zacatecoluca Maximum Security Penal Center. (Free Press Photo: .)

On April 27, the government of Nayib Bukele sealed the cells of 6 prisons with 16,000 gang members as a result of an escalation in homicides.

Various humanitarian agencies have pointed out in the past the vulnerability of Salvadoran prisoners to diseases such as tuberculosis due to levels of overcrowding.

According to official data, the 26 Salvadoran prisons have installed capacity for 27,093 inmates, but 32,721 are currently being held.

El Salvador registers 2,109 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 37 deaths and 1,992 patients suspected of infection.