HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH PRISON PROJECT
PRISONS IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN (cont'd)
Honduran prisons reached critical levels of overcrowding in 1998, with, as of January, some 10,500 inmates jammed into facilities designed for well under half that number. The vast majority of Honduran inmates are procesados: inmates whose criminal prosecution languishes at some stage in the judicial process.
1997 saw a spate of prison riots and mass escapes, problems that continued in 1998.
The following are links to newspaper articles relating to Honduras' prisons (note that they are primarily in Spanish):
In October 1997, the U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed Jamaica's report on its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The committee noted that "serious deficiencies subsist in the administration of [Jamaica's] prison system." It also concluded that Jamaican laws prescribing corporal punishment as a penalty for the breach of prison rules were contrary to international human rights standards, and urged that such laws be repealed.
The following are links to information relating to Jamaican prisons:
The following are links to newspaper articles relating to Mexico's prisons (note that they are primarily in Spanish):
The following newspaper article provides information on Nicaraguan prisons (in Spanish):
The following are links to newspaper articles on Panama's prisons (note that they are all in Spanish):
According to the Ministry of Justice and Work, the country's twelve penal facilities held a total of 4,429 inmates in August 1998. The largest prison was the National Penitentiary, which confined 1,751 inmates. During 1997, twenty-four inmates there died violently.
The use of police lockups for long-term detention of prisoners is reported to be a common practice in Paraguay. In addition, several adult prisons reportedly hold juveniles.
The following link provides information relating to Paraguay's prisons:
Prison conditions for high-security prisoners continued to be extremely harsh in 1997. In April and August, 161 high-security prisoners jailed for terrorist offenses were transferred to a new prison at Challapalca, located at more than 14,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes, where temperatures drop to twenty degrees below zero centigrade (four degrees below zero Fahrenheit). These conditions constituted a serious risk to health, and the remoteness of the site meant that the prisoners were virtually cut off from the outside world, violating international norms.
In June 1997 the government introduced new prison regulations for prisoners accused or convicted of "terrorist" crimes, which may ameliorate some of the worst features of the prison regime. Prisoners were to be allowed weekly, instead of monthly, visits from the families, and their children would be allowed to visit them every week, instead of every three months. Prison privileges were to be earned by good conduct, but new prisoners, regardless of the nature of their offense, still had to spend a year under the harshest regime, locked up in their cells and allowed out for only one hour a day.
The following are links to information relating to Peru's prisons:
The following newspaper articles provide information on Uruguay's prisons (note that they are in Spanish):
Overcrowded, understaffed, physically deteriorated, plagued by official corruption and abuse, and rife with weapons, guns, and gangs, Venezuela's prisons languished in a seemingly permanent state of crisis during 1997. Although the Ministry of Justice, charged with administering the country's prison system, took some steps toward reform over the course of the year, the prisons' overall structural problems were not noticeably eased. The January 1997 closure of the violent and overcrowded Retén de Catia prison, although it eliminated a notorious symbol of the country's prison woes, exacerbated overcrowding at the remaining penal facilities in Caracas. Nationally, with over 25,000 inmates crammed into thirty-two penal institutions, the prison population continued to far exceed the available capacity.
Most notable among the prisons' chronic problems was their extreme violence, which remained at the highest levels in the region. According to newspaper accounts, eighty-two prisoners were killed during the first eight months of the year -- a number that, while shockingly high, represented a substantial decline from previous years. One of the most violent prisons was Tocuyito, in Valencia, where at least twenty-nine prisoners were killed -- many by gunshots -- between January and September. In Tocuyito and other prisons, such killings were almost entirely the product of inmate-on-inmate violence. Heavily armed, and supervised by a small number of untrained, underpaid guards, the prisoners themselves effectively controlled the prisons, as even the minister of justice publicly acknowledged.
The year was punctuated by exceptionally brutal outbursts of prison violence. On August 28, a surprise attack of one group against its rivals at El Dorado prison, a remote jungle facility in southeastern Venezuela, resulted in twenty-nine dead and numerous injured. Even prior to the violence, the deplorable conditions of the "Casa Amarilla," the area of the prison where the murders took place, had led the Public Ministry to call for its closure.
The prisons' severe overcrowding and unhygienic conditions, combined with their appalling lack of medical care, encouraged the emergence and spread of disease. Tuberculosis was the most common illness, according to the Public Ministry, which in August reported 1,011 confirmed cases in the prisons. In May, cholera broke out in Sabaneta prison, a densely populated, decaying facility in western Venezuela: eighty-five prisoners reportedly fell ill, while almost 600 others required treatment. Cases of cholera were also reported in La Planta prison in July and in El Rodeo II in September. In a promising effort to stem the spread of disease, the government of Miranda state instituted a pilot project of sending large medical teams into local prisons for short-term sweeps, conducting tests, providing vaccinations, and distributing much-needed medical supplies.
In the wake of the El Dorado prison massacre, the new minister of justice, who was appointed in March, promised that in less than a year the prison crisis would be brought under control, and described an array of measures meant to accomplish this goal, including the development of a new corps of prison guards who would be better paid and better trained. Given the lackluster history of Venezuelan prison reform efforts, however, such claims must be judged on the strength of their results rather than on the encouraging scope of their ambition. The Ministry of Justice did, in June, conduct a detailed census of the prison population, a first step toward classifying prisoners to separate pre-trial detainees from convicted offenders, and first-time petty criminals from dangerous recidivists. It also established a new prison ombudsman's office, a post with greater independence than provided previous such monitors.
Over two-thirds of the Venezuelan prison population was made up of pre-trial detainees and others at some stage in the criminal justice process -- people who might be incarcerated for several years before being acquitted of the charges against them -- indicating that a durable solution to Venezuela's prison crisis required action from other government authorities as well. In particular, the country's criminal justice system was in need of radical reform, an effort implicating the legislature and the judiciary, among others.
Minister of Justice Hilarión Cardozo acknowledged the gravity of the situation in the country's prisons and reviewed proposals on prison reform made by the Forum for Life, a consortium of nongovernmental organizations. However, the government agreed to implement only a few of the forum's overall recommendations.
Human Rights Watch's 1997 report on prison conditions in Venezuela, Punishment Before Trial, gives a comprehensive look at the country's prison situation. The updated Spanish translation of the report, released in May 1998, includes more recent information.
The following newspaper articles provide further information on Venezuela's treatment of prisoners (note that they are primarily in Spanish):
The following bulletins from the Venezuelan Ministry of Justice describe the ministry's prison-related efforts: