Home Coronavirus Podcast: How Belize Central Prison has Mitigated the Spread of COVID-19
Podcast: How Belize Central Prison has Mitigated the Spread of COVID-19

Podcast: How Belize Central Prison has Mitigated the Spread of COVID-19

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Belize Central Prison has not had a single reported case of COVID-19. In this podcast episode, AMU Criminal Justice professor Dr. Jarrod Sadulski talks with Virgilio Murillo, the CEO of the Kolbe Foundation, which manages the prison for the Belize government.

Learn about the measures implemented to prevent COVID-19 from entering the prison and spreading including limiting outside visitation, installing handwashing stations, conducting temperature checks, and disinfecting and sanitizing the facility. During all these changes, Murillo talks about the importance of keeping prisoners educated and informed about the virus so they understand the reason behind new protocols and do their part to protect other inmates and staff.

Read the Transcript:

Jarrod Sadulski: Well, good morning everybody. My name is Dr. Jarrod Sadulski. My guest today is CEO of Kolbe Foundation, Mr. Virgilio Murillo. Good morning, Mr. Murillo. How are you today?

Virgilio Murillo: Hi, good morning, Jarrod. I’m doing great, thank God.

Jarrod Sadulski: Excellent.

Virgilio Murillo: How are you?

Jarrod Sadulski: I’m doing great. Well, Mr. Murillo is speaking with us today from the Belize Central Prison. He manages the prison and he’s a key stakeholder in the success of Belize Central Prison. And what we’re going to talk about today is the impact of COVID-19 in prisons, begin by taking a look at what’s going on around the world with COVID-19 at prisons. And then we’ll talk specifically about what’s going on with Belize Central Prison. And it’s important to note that currently Belize Central Prison has not had an active case of COVID-19. And we’ll compare that and contrast that to some of the other prisons in the region.

Before we begin, I’d like to give a little background on the Kolbe Foundation and Belize Central Prison. This has been something that for the last couple years, that I, as a researcher, have been very interested in. I traveled to Belize the last couple years and spent time with Mr. Murillo. And I’ve seen the great work that’s being accomplished through him and his staff at the prison.

To give some background context, the Kolbe Foundation took over the prison in 2002 from the Belize government because of the deplorable conditions that existed at that time, back prior to the Kolbe Foundation, which is a nonprofit Christian organization that manages the prison for the government. Prior to their takeover before August of 2002, the Belize Central Prison had 300 beds, housed 900 inmates, had roughly 50 escapes per year.

After the takeover, which Mr. Murillo has been with the Kolbe Foundation from the beginning, the prison has seen a dramatic increase in success in their rehabilitation, as well as in their infrastructure in their security. The prison operates on, in US terms, $7 per day per inmate. In comparison, the average cost per prisoner in the United States is $99, according to the Bureau of Prisons. So with a very limited budget, Mr. Murillo has been able to reduce his recidivism rate between 10 and 14% each year for the last several years, which really is a leader throughout the world. There’s also been 186% drop in escapes.

So we come today to discuss COVID-19, but I also want to make sure everybody has a background on the success that’s going on at Belize Central Prison. So that said, Mr. Murillo, could you provide us a brief background of your experience at the Belize Central Prison?

Virgilio Murillo: Yes. Good morning once again, Jarrod, and thanks for having me on this podcast. First off, before I go into saying anything about my background at the prison and experience at the prison, I want to first of all thank God for protecting this prison thus far. Like you rightly said earlier, as of this point, we have not had a single case of COVID-19 in the prison, which is a great blessing. As a matter of fact, I want to put it this way. We are one of the very few public service entities and the only department within the Ministry of National Security that remains COVID free. And God deserves all the praise and glory for that.

Going into my background, I will tell you that I  started at the prison on December 16, 2002, after the construction of the Southern Highway was completed. Because initially I worked for Cisco Construction, which is a company that builds highways, and they were given the contract to build the Southern Highway. And I went there to manage their camps. John Woods, who was the owner of Cisco Construction, was also challenged in 2002 by the government to take over the management of the Belize Central Prison.

And so after the construction finished, he asked me to come to the prison and I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I certainly am a person who liked challenges. So I took on the challenge and I came. So I have been CEO for the last six years. And I have a total of 18 years prison experience. I served 7 years as the Deputy Chief Executive Officer with emphasis on finance and administration. I do have extensive knowledge and skills in administrative and security work, and I’ve had an accumulative total of 27 years working in managerial capacities over the years.

Jarrod Sadulski: Excellent. Excellent. And I wanted to emphasize, you’d mentioned that the Belize Central Prison does not have any active COVID cases and wanted to put that in comparison to the United States, for example, although the Belize Central Prison population is substantially less than the prison population in the United States. However, as of July 7th of 2020, there’ve been at least 57,019 prisoners in the United States that have tested positive, which was an increase of 9% from the previous week.

And also there’s been substantial cases in California, Texas, and Arkansas. So I wanted to go ahead and add that as we look at issues around in different parts of the region in the Americas, it is really remarkable that the Belize Central Prison does not have any COVID cases. So I wanted to also ask Mr. Murillo. So can you provide us with a brief background on how COVID-19 has impacted the nation of Belize, aside from the prison?

Virgilio Murillo: Well, what I can tell you from what I have been observing and hearing is that it is certainly a new phenomenon, which has no doubt created confusion and then psychological stress, I guess, on the government and Belizeans as a whole. And this is simply because as the days go by, we keep getting new knowledge or new information about this virus. At one point, you will hear of a certain number of symptoms. And before you know it, you might hear of a brand new symptom that seemed to be a telltale signs of COVID. So it’s rather confusing. And I think it creates stress for the government authorities and Belizeans as a whole.

Despite the deadliness of the virus, Belizeans continued to be reckless with COVID-19 protocols, such as social distance, hand hygiene, wearing a face mask and all that. The government has instituted state of emergency since April 1st. And you would think that people would be respectful of the state of emergency regulation and also the deadness of the virus. However, that doesn’t seem to be the situation.

Jarrod Sadulski: The prison, since the state of emergency has been declared and the regulations have been put in place to mitigate the spread, would you believe that over 100 persons have been arrested for simple things like not wearing a mask? Well, I’m saying arrested, but I think I have the wrong word. They have been imprisoned for not having a mask, not practicing social distance and those kinds of things. Could you imagine that being outside for a few hours and all of those things?

Virgilio Murillo: Well, we certainly had a complete shutdown of the country at one point, and that definitely had a tremendous impact on the economy because literally everything came to a screeching halt. So no revenues were being made. People were not being employed.

If my memory serves me well, I think the government had to make a decision to try and assist people financially and other ways for job losses and not being able to provide food. So they give out food hampers and financial assistance to at least 60,000 Belizean, lost their jobs, and those kinds of things.

Right about now, I see where crimes of dishonesty have increased in terms of all the burglaries and robberies taking place out in the societies. And a lot of them happen because people don’t have employment and cannot get employment, at least over the last three months especially. And since August of 2020, the number of cases have skyrocketed, and it continues to climb daily.

As we speak today, we have 1,307 cases. I remember that at least a month or so ago, we were still hovering at 77. And we’ve literally jumped 1,200 since. We have had 16 deaths recorded as of last night. So the shutdown of the transportation industry certainly affected the smooth and efficient operation of the different industries in the country. Of course, scarcity in COVID-19 supplies had an impact as well on the country.

Jarrod Sadulski: I wanted to point out to our audience that in Belize there are roughly 390,000 citizens. So for 60,000 citizens to be unemployed due to COVID, that’s really substantial considering the total population is around 390,000. Is that correct?

Virgilio Murillo: Absolutely. Absolutely. It hurts us big time.

Jarrod Sadulski: What are some of the initial steps that you took as the CEO to protect your staff and inmates from the virus back in early March, maybe late February, late March, whenever this pandemic really was stepping up worldwide?

Virgilio Murillo: Well, one of the first thing we did was we were monitoring it from December 19 when the news of the virus had just broken. And then some information from the World Health Organization was shared with us as prison. And my doctor and ourselves, the leadership of the prison, began reading those information. And we had our first contingency planning meeting, I think, some time in March. And what we did back then, we commenced with the partial suspension of visits by loved ones. And they were only allowed to come and deposit cash into their loved one’s personal account. We were very selective and cautious with allowing attorney visits and we installed things like wash hand, basins, all these posters, and other stuff to alert people and inform people of the COVID virus, and what they can do to prevent it and mitigate the spreading of it in the prison.

When that suspension of visits took place, we went through a rigid implementation of COVID-19 protocols, such as hand hygiene, wearing a face masks, social distancing, disinfecting, and sanitizing a frequently touched surfaces and highly trafficked buildings, as well as the prison officers transport. We did temperature checks of every person before entering the prison.

We also did the COVID-19 screening using that standard questionnaire that asks you about where you’ve been. And have you been in contact with anybody who is known to have had the virus, etc., etc? Any person, including staff, who displayed flu-like symptoms were not allowed to enter the prison, period.

And all visits with attorneys were, they became non-contact and we try to minimize even those. We tried to encourage the attorneys that if they don’t need to come to prison, then just don’t come. If they can do a paperwork and use the email system to scan it and send it, we get it signed and sent it back to them and those kinds of things, then we do that.

Jarrod Sadulski: Interesting. So with the COVID-19 pandemic, that obviously has created some challenges, but during that period of time, you had mentioned that there was a state of emergency. But has been a state of emergency that has involved gang activity that has increased our prison population during COVID?

Virgilio Murillo: We had two, unfortunately, but those were triggered by the rise in homicides. There was a serious homicide situation in the city, particularly, amongst the gangs. So in March, I think around on March 20th, I received 142 gang members as part of a state of emergency that was declared for them. And they came to prison and those were released in April, the following month. Then in July, they declared another one because apparently the killing remain unabated and they sent them here. So today I have 75 of them in the prison.

Jarrod Sadulski: When you have these large increases of gang members that on the streets it’s because of the violence and because of the murder that gang members are responsible for, then all the sudden you have over 100 of these hardened criminals, these gang members, brought to your prison. What happens when these gang members that are violent on the streets come to your prison? How do things go once they come to your prison?

Virgilio Murillo: Well, Jarrod, I’ll let you know the truth. Certainly one of the things you don’t do with gang members is give them any impression that you’re trying to glorify them. You cannot show them that you’re scared of them either. I think a lot of times people make monsters out of these people, but really and truly when they come to the prison, they literally lap their tails.

In the prison, I’ll be honest with you, I even took pictures of them recreating, playing basketball or some kind of sport together. Not a single, not even a little assault we have recorded over the last month and a half for this last set. And then the first set that had come, I will tell you they left here rather peacefully.

So what the idea is, is real not to show them that you’re scared of them and to show them that they are not monsters, because I think it really gets to their head when people see them as monsters. They’re human beings.

Jarrod Sadulski: Right. And I think it really speaks to the professionalism of you and your staff and the management practices. Because you have gang members that are being brought to prison under a state of emergency because of the violence that is occurring among them outside in the street.

But yet when they come to your prison, because of the excellent prison management strategies that you’ve implemented, they’re getting along and playing basketball together. And I want to emphasize that because that really speaks to your leadership and to the leadership of your staff, to be able to have that.

And for the last couple of years, just so our audiences aware, I’ve been working with the prison and with you, and I’m trying to gain a deeper understanding of how your prison compared to the other prisons throughout Latin America and really throughout the world. I’ve argued for years now that your prison should be the prison operating model throughout the world, because you have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the entire world. And you’re able to bring in, in this example, violent gang members from the streets where they can’t get along out in public, but yet when they’re brought into the prison, they’re in the same building, playing basketball and you haven’t even had something as simple as an assault. That really does speak to the great things that are going on at the Belize Prison.

Virgilio Murillo: Thank you very much for that compliment, but let me just stick up in here, too. If I tell you that these guys are literally eating out of the same pot, you wouldn’t believe it. I mean, it’s no joke.

And like I tell you, the whole issue of respecting people goes a very long way, because this is one of the things that this prison does. We respect these people. We respect them and we earn their respect by first respecting them.

The media came here the other day and I took them inside where they were all co-habiting and they were blown away to see that, my God, why is it that they cannot get along out in the society? But look at them here. They are one brother. They are one family.

Jarrod Sadulski: That’s incredible. It really goes to speak to the great things that you are doing at the Belize Central Prison. And it’s definitely been a goal of mine over the last couple years to make sure that everyone is aware of what’s going on at the Belize Central Prison, because it’s rare.

You and I have talked about it in the past, some of the issues that are going on in some of the neighboring prisons in Guatemala, El Salvador, the Northern Triangle. Some of the things that have occurred just recently in terms of problems with not only COVID in prisons, but also massive escapes, as well as considerable problems that don’t exist in the Belize Central Prison.

Virgilio Murillo: You mentioned in Guatemala and the Northern Triangle, too. That brings to mind that we also have members of MS-13 and we do have members of 18th Street in our prison. And they themselves are residing in one building because they are normally here for immigration offenses.

So inevitably we don’t want to put illegal immigrants in other buildings in other convicted blocks of the prison, because the whole issue of illegal immigrant is, even though it’s an offense in Belize’s laws, it does not necessarily sit too well with other countries.

They always suggest that you put immigrants in a separate detention center. Unfortunately, Belize doesn’t have that center, so they have to send them to my prison. And surprisingly, these guys, they have a couple of arguments, however, they don’t get violent with each other and hurt each other. They are very much cohabiting peacefully together until their illegal interest sentence is over.

Jarrod Sadulski: Right. Interesting. And again, it really speaks to the excellent things that are going on at the Belize Central Prison. So we talked about how COVID-19 is impacting the prison and some of the steps that you’re taking. Things that I noticed from my last visit to the prison was the, and you actually spoke on it, the mutual respect between staff members and inmates.

There is a clear mutual respect, and it goes both ways. And it really was one of the contributing factors toward the peace that exists within the prison. So I wanted to ask how has COVID-19 impacted the interaction between staff and inmates?

Virgilio Murillo: All right. I will tell you the truth. We certainly took a stance that we should make it a point to keep inmates informed of any changes to operations way in advance so that they themselves can analyze and digest what we’re doing.

In other words, we don’t believe in knee-jerk reactions. So one of the other ways that we educate prisoners is true Jeremiah 33.3, which is the prison’s radio station. So they get to hear the news up to the minute. Remember it took you to the radio station when you were here. And they get to hear the news up to the minute. So they are very abreast of what is happening in the society on a daily basis. So I guess the prisoners having knowledge of what this virus is all about and how deadly it is and all of that, they’re very satisfied that the prison is not leaving them in the dark, so to speak.

I sense that there is a great team spirit between the staff and the inmates to keep the virus out of the prison. As a matter of fact, it is prisoners that we are using to do the COVID-19 screening, that temperature check and that questionnaire, those kinds of things.

They are the ones that are doing it because the prison is very lacking in human resources, not only financial, but human resources. So we don’t have the staff to do that. So we taught the prisoners what to look for, the questions to ask, and how to screen and do temperature, check on all of that.

I think they are very pleased that the prison is serious about protecting them from the virus. As of this point, they feel very safe. You hear it from them. They let you know in no certain terms, we feel good that we are safe. Their biggest worry is always their families on the outside. They are wondering if they will ever be infected, if they will ever get bad news that they caught the virus.

Jarrod Sadulski: And again, it really does speak to the professionalism of your staff. We’re talking about how the Belize Central Prison has overcome some of the obstacles that have occurred recently with COVID-19, as well as the state of emergency that’s occurred in Belize that has increased the gang population. And despite that increase, the Belize Central Prison has not seen an increase in turmoil, violence, or uprisings.

And I want to point out why that’s so significant. So since the COVID-19 outbreaks, there’s been a substantial inmate uprisings throughout prisons in Latin America. There was a survey conducted of 18 countries, and 11 had recorded prisoner riots in the recent months of COVID-19. Mr. Murillo, have you had any riots since COVID-19?

Virgilio Murillo: Absolutely none.

Jarrod Sadulski: And that’s really substantial because six of the countries in the 18 that were surveyed in Latin America have had prisoners die amid the riots. So take, for example, Colombia, one of their prisons, because of COVID-19 concerns, had a substantial riot that resulted in fire, substantial damage to the prison, and uprisings that ultimately spilled over into other prisons throughout Colombia.

So I just want to point out that in a country of roughly 390,000 people and despite these challenges, this prison has been able to overcome obstacles that neighbors throughout Latin America have struggled with. And I really want to, again, make sure that we identify the success going on at the Belize Central Prison.

So that said, what do you attribute to you and your staff’s success in leading Latin America and North America in keeping COVID-19 out of the Belize Central Prison?

Well, like I said earlier, even though these guys come to prison, there’s a need for them to be informed every step of the way. We don’t have a difficulty, like I said, when we did our contingency planning, we made it our business to send out notices and policy changes and all of those things in a timely fashion. For example, we did not just stop visits.

We give them at least three days’ notice that as of a certain point, visits will stop or will be suspended. And we explained to them the reason why, because these guys need to know. They need to know, and if you inform them, they are able to analyze if what you’re doing is right. They are able to digest it so that it doesn’t catch them off guard, and then they react.

So that is one of the things. Like I tell you, we respect them in that regard. And we make sure that we inform them way in advance as to what changes in policies, what changes in operations. One of the things we also did too is even our recreation.

We used to give them three hours recreation prior to COVID. Today we’re down to an hour recreation. And even with that one hour recreation, they respect it and they understand why it is being done. So they’re not giving us any trouble at all, as it relates to that. And it’s because they understand why.

Jarrod Sadulski: Excellent. Your success in managing the COVID-19 pandemic is really consistent with the long-term success that you’ve had at the Belize Central Prison. And certainly from my experience at the prison and speaking to both staff and inmates, just so our audience knows, that I had the opportunity to come in January of this year before the COVID-19 pandemic occurred. And I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Murillo and to work with his staff to conduct some training and also to speak with inmates.

And in the research that I’ve done in prisons throughout Latin America and in North America, I’ve never seen a level of calmness that exists within the prison. And though I haven’t been there since the COVID-19 pandemic has occurred, I’m confident that calmness and peace within the prison still exists.

And from my experience, what I found at the prison is the secret to why Belize Central Prison is so effective compared to the other prisons that I’ve researched is the faith-based initiatives that exist within the prison. And with that, could you speak briefly on the rehabilitation programs within the prison, their successes in preparing for inmates to go out into the society following their sentence, and how those rehabilitation programs, many of which are faith-based, contribute to the recidivism rate that you have 10 to 14%, which aside from Norway is one of the lowest that I found in the world.

Virgilio Murillo: Well, certainly we emphasize a lot of rehabilitation program. Over 50% of our population are engaged in some kind of rehab program or working program. And even the working program, we see it as a form of rehabilitation. Because what those working program does, it teaches them work ethics.

For argument’s sake, a prisoner, if he wants a job in and around the prison, wherever, he has to fill out an application form. And he has to be honest with all the information that is on that form, because it’s typical to an employee or a person who wants to be employed by the prison where you have to state your biodata and all your criminal background, and whether you are arrested and those kinds of things. So we have a standard form that they fill out.

We have several programs going on. Our main program is what we call the ARC Program. The ARC stands for the Ashcroft Rehabilitation Center, and that program addresses a person’s addiction, a person’s criminal and addictive behavior. It is based on the 12-Step Program. And there is where the person gets to look after his drug issue or alcohol issue, whatever the case may be.

Because remember, there are prisoners in prison who either commit crime for drugs, or they use drugs to commit crime. And in some cases there are others who do both. And this is the kind of things that we’re trying to address. This is the kinds of programming that we’re trying to offer so that they can get rid of that addiction.

We also have the IFFB Program, which is the InnerChange For Freedom Belize. That is spiritual based mainly. Then we do have the RRC Program, which is the Remand Rehab Center, which deals with issues such as gangs, gang affiliation, anger management, and those things. That caters more to the remanded prisoners, whilst the ARC caters to the convicted prisoners. Those are the ones that with a definitive sentence.

But at the end of the day, we are very keen on pushing programs. There’s other little programs like Journey to Freedom, New Freedom Program, again, that addresses issues with gangs and gang affiliation and the doings of gangs and all of that. So then we have the vocational programs such as our piggery, our poultry, our woodwork program. And I think I had sent you a little article on the tire arts, and what else did we do? We did the face mask program too, as a form of revenue generation for the prison.

But we are highly engaged because we’re trying to teach these guys coping skills. We are trying to teach them life skills so that when they go out into the society, they are not only willing and ready to lead a law abiding life, but also a sustainable one because they should be able to be employed or they should be able to work for themselves and earn their own revenue and survive, provide for their family and themselves, and remain out of prison.

Jarrod Sadulski: Absolutely. Nelson Mandela stated that it is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. And nations should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones. Would you agree with Mr. Mandela?

Virgilio Murillo: I could not agree with him any more.

Jarrod Sadulski: Yep. I agree as well. And that statement by Nelson Mandela really emphasizes the characteristics of Belize Central Prison because you provide inmates the opportunity to turn their lives around. You provide inmates the opportunities and the resources that if they want to address those drug and alcohol issues that led them to prison, that led them to the robberies and may have led them to prison, you have those resources available. And then you also work with the community in providing a gift shop that citizens can support inmates in the prison by purchasing from the gift shop.

In addition, I know that you’ve placed an emphasis on encouraging citizens to hire inmates that are released and rehabilitated, and hire them through the skills that they’ve learned in the prison, which from what I’ve seen is carpentry, is masonry, is electrical work, is several different trade skills.

And I think that that, in addition to the faith-based initiatives that exist within the prison, you had mentioned the radio station. One thing that I want to emphasize with the radio station is that from the time that I’ve spent in the prison, there are testimonials provided by inmates who have turned their lives around. And you provide those testimonials on the prison radio for other inmates to hear and to have a framework for how they can change their lives. Would that be correct?

Virgilio Murillo: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I wanted to mention, too, that even the prison hires ex-prisoners. I have a number of ex-prisoners as guards working in the prison currently, approximately 50 of them. Because I’ll tell you what, these guys have been there, they have done that.

And one of the biggest struggles in any prison is the contraband, particularly drugs. And this prison is very, very strict when it comes to drugs, because drugs undermines prison security. Drug undermines the whole issue of rehabilitation of the offender. It increases violence in a prison.

So we are very strict with that. Right now, I’m telling you that we have reduced drugs to, at least we have reduced it by 90%, no doubt. In an entire year, you’re hardly coming up with an ounce of marijuana these days.

But we have some rigid search processes. We have a very keen intelligence unit that picks up the intelligence even before the prisoner brings it into the prison. So sometime they bring it in their cavities. We have to let them wait in the holding cell. If we don’t do a cavity search, we let them wait in the holding cell until they defecate and they bring it out. We have a good intelligence unit that provides all of this information beforehand.

But we’re very keen on that. And certainly, we have had ex-prisoners. We don’t have a problem with them because we see where they have changed and they have not let us down. As a matter of fact, there’s one particular guy that I am sure has been with the prison over 14 years and counting.

Jarrod Sadulski: Interesting. That says quite a bit in terms of rehabilitation. If a prison can rehabilitate someone and then hire them to come back and work over a decade for the prison that they were once could find to, that speaks volumes to the success of the Belize Central Prison. So my last question, what are some resources that you need to help you continue to be successful in protecting the prison from COVID-19?

Virgilio Murillo: COVID-19 supplies. For the purpose of COVID, I’m thinking that COVID-19 supplies would be much welcomed. We had gotten a donation from CARICOM IMPACS some time ago. That is back in June.

Jarrod Sadulski: Can you explain to our audience who that is?

Virgilio Murillo: Okay. That’s the Caribbean Community Implementation Agency for Crime and Security. That’s an organization that is based in Trinidad and they are pretty much the coordinating agency to come up with strategies to fight crime and keep the Caribbean community, which Belize is a part of, I wouldn’t say a crime-free, but reduce crime and the impacts of crime on the countries. Through the British government, they had donated to us back in June, but those supplies are pretty much depleted. They’re almost depleted, if not completely.

But things such as disposable face masks. What we’re doing right now is the courts has asked us to give inmates face masks when they go for their trials, when they go for their hearings and those kinds of things. So the prison has had to provide prisoners with face masks when they leave the prison. But those things are expendable. We cannot reuse them and quite a lot of people are going.

Then we do need gloves, latex hand gloves, disposable gloves, because we search people. But you cannot be searching different people with the same gloves, so every time you search a person. Right now, what we’re doing to sanitize it is spraying it off with sanitizer, alcohol based.

And certainly hand sanitizers. We cannot get too much of this, any at all, it’s needed. Disinfecting chemicals like Clorox and PPEs for staff, including face shields. Those are some of the things that we can definitely do with.

Jarrod Sadulski: Okay. So if somebody is listening to our podcast today and would like to reach out to you to get more information about perhaps learning more about the prison, learning more about the initiatives that have been so successful in the prison, perhaps somebody that may be in a position to be able to support the prison. How can they reach you?

Virgilio Murillo: Well, my email address is vir_mur@yahoo.com. And my contact number is 501, that’s the country’s code, 610-0878. Kolbe Foundation is the name of the organization that is managing the prison for the government of Belize.

Jarrod Sadulski: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for being our guest today. Are there any remaining thoughts that you’d like to share?

Virgilio Murillo: Well, all I can say is that I thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our strategies and best practices to prevent COVID-19 from entering the prison. We are focused on preventing the importation of the virus altogether, as opposed to mitigating the spread.

One of the things I emphasize to my staff, my leadership staff in particular, and I hope it is being trickled down to the junior staff or the front liners. I tell them, as leaders we must be flexible with processes, but we should be very ruthless with the principals because that makes the big difference especially in terms of keeping COVID-19 and contraband out of our prison.

We can’t play games with principals. If we play games with principals, then recidivism is going to go up. There will be no consequence for committing crime and we don’t need that. We don’t want this society to lose confidence in the prison system, any at all. We want to send properly reformed people back into the society so that they can be with their families.

Jarrod Sadulski: Absolutely. Those are great points. And I’d also like to thank In Public Safety Matters and American Military University for the opportunity for us to have this podcast. And now, Mr. Murillo, I truly thank you for taking this time and sharing with us your expertise.

Virgilio Murillo: Thank you very much, Jarrod. And I look forward to seeing you. Can’t wait for this COVID thing to go away.

Jarrod Sadulski: Likewise, likewise. I really look forward to our next visit. Well, thank you very much.

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Comment(1)

  1. Absolutely! Love listening to the podcast. COVID-19 outbreaks in custodial settings are especially important for public health because an outbreak could quickly overwhelm prison health-care services.

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