Court backlogs, overcrowding and illness: the drama of prisoners in Venezuela

Court backlogs, overcrowding and illness: the drama of prisoners in Venezuela

Court backlogs, overcrowding and illness: the drama of prisoners in Venezuela




The prisoners in Venezuela’s prisons and in the so-called Preventive Detention Centers (CDP), which are small prisons with countless deficiencies and inhumane conditions, have been waiting for 25 years for a change, improvements that guarantee due process, sentences within the established times. and conditions that allow the prisoner to pay his sentence in a place and conditions that allows him to reintegrate into society.

By Irene Revilla // Correspondent

Although there have been years of struggle by family members and the prisoners themselves which include hunger strikes and “blood strikes” and riots, they have achieved nothing more than small measures that were implemented during the first few days, but then the authorities forgot and the problems continue to increase.

Next July 26th marks the 13th year since the creation of the Popular Power Ministry for the Penitentiary Service, which was supposedly created to solve the problems of overcrowding, court backlogs, unhealthiness and even crime within Venezuelan prisons, but the situation hasn’t improved at all.

Humberto Prado, general director of the NGO “Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones” (Venezuelan Prison Observatory), states that after the closure of seven prisons in the country, overcrowding has increased and prisoners have not been transferred to penitentiary centers near their homes, as was the plan. On the contrary, those arraigned or incriminated get separated and it becomes cumbersome and almost impossible to bring together all those involved when they have hearings.

“We are waiting for the new plan by the new minister Julio García Zerpa, who was appointed in the middle of the hunger strike. He has not yet forwarded a plan on how all the requests made by prisoners and their families will be addressed. For example, when they closed the seven prisons to put an end to the prans, he promised a facility in Zulia and they still haven’t done anything. With this they intended to bring those deprived of liberty close to their families and the courts where they have their hearings, but the truth is that they are increasingly further away from that.”

He assured that the State does not comply with the constitutional mandate to reintegrate prisoners into society. Police detention cells suffer widespread deficiencies, there are many prisoners in small spaces, with excessive leisure time and prisons under these conditions become “universities of crime.”

Growing problems

Court backlogs, overcrowding and illness: the drama of prisoners in Venezuela




In June of this year, those “deprived of liberty” (euphemism for prisoner, detainee, jailed) went on a hunger strike that lasted six days, according to Carlos Nieto, General Director of NGO “Una Ventana a la Libertad” (A Window to Freedom), that monitors prisons and Preventive Detention Centers in the country.

He stated that at least 51 of the prisons in the country joined the hunger strike to demand, among other requests, an end to procedural delays and that due process be respected.

The strike lasted six days and was gradually lifted. Although during the first days prisoners were transferred to review files and work has been done, there is a lot of distrust in the relatives and detainees because on other occasions they have promised solutions and have never delivered.

Nieto said that the Ministry of Penitentiary Services only reported that it has approached different prisons to begin court proceedings, process end of term liberations as stipulated in the law and meet with family members.

Overcrowding and diseases such as tuberculosis, the flu, skin infections and others that spread due to unsanitary conditions persist in Preventive Detention Centers (CDPs). They do not have toilets, they urinate and defecate in bags, pots or holes in the ground. Some CDPs do not have regular access to water, such as those located in Zulia.

Relatives protest too

In several states of the country, relatives of prisoners joined strikes outside criminal courts, as in the case of Falcón State.

They demanded to be heard, since the lives of the prisoners were in danger, because in addition to being held in inhumane conditions, a hunger strike to attract the attention of the National Government and placed them in an extreme state of vulnerability.

Orelis Benítez, a relative of a prisoner in Falcón, said that the problems are many: firstly, the false procedures where they detain people who arrive from abroad with a little money to invest in the country, when they refuse to pay for “vaccines” (extortion, protection money), are planted with drugs; Secondly, the conditions that exist in detention centers. “There are up to 70 people in a room, suffering from hunger, heat and many needs. They get sick because there are infections, one gets sick and the other falls.”

Added to this is that the family member has to pay for everything, even providing them with medication or gasoline to transport them on the day of the hearing. “There are detainees who already have had up to 40 suspended hearings, because the judge does not arrive or the prosecutor does not arrive either. We need ‘procedural delay’ to end, our families are going through many needs and no one gives us an answer. We are tired of this!” had contact with several prisoners from the Coro Penitentiary Community, where the hunger strike passed without major inconveniences. The detainees demand that the cases be reviewed and suitable measures be granted to those who are eligible, since there are cases of detainees who have been on trial for up to three years and have not received the final sentence.

“We want things to move forward, we do not want them to continue evading the hearings, we want there to be judges, prosecutors and personnel who do their work, who go to the hearings and who hear us when it is due. Nobody is saying that we don’t want to serve the terms that we owe, but these sentences need to be handed down, these cases be attended to. We watch the years go by and they haven’t even told us if we are guilty or not. We live in a country where the laws are not respected,” said a prisoner.

Another prisoner in the municipal police jail of Carirubana, also in the state of Falcón, where the prisoners reported that they were beaten by the police during the hunger strike, wonders why the prisoners in Falcón are still overcrowded when there is a prison in the Falconian capital to which prisoners from other states are being taken while they are held: “like sardines in a can. Overcrowding is killing us and no one is doing anything,” he said.

Court backlogs, overcrowding and illness: the drama of prisoners in Venezuela





The requests of those deprived of liberty are the following:

– Review cases of redemptions and apply humanitarian measures

-Address procedural delay

-Facilitate healthcare days in the facilities that serve as CDP where there are more diseases

-Address overcrowding

– Investigate police officers dedicated to extortion and particularly free innocent prisoners as there are a large number

-Transfer those deprived of liberty with their cases to facilities close to their courts to facilitate transfers

-Improve the health conditions of the CDPs

Are there responses from Chavismo?

The Minister of Penitentiary Services, Julio García Zerpa, has said through his social network accounts that he will address the issues associated with the redemption of sentences and there will be days to attend to those deprived of liberty.

According to official figures, there are 44 penitentiary centers in the country and at least 54,000 prisoners. A week after the national strike ended, no assessment has been made about the situation or if any improvement operations have been held in the states.