Coro, June 15th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – In an attempt to “humanise” the country’s penitentiary system, the Venezuelan government announced this Tuesday the creation of a new ministry which will be responsible for the transformation of the nation’s jails.
Minister of Interior Relations and Justice, Tareck El Aissami, announced the creation of the “Ministry of Comprehensive Care for the Prison Service” at a press conference.
This ministry will “add to the strategic decisions that our government has been taking in order to keep advancing its mission to radically transform the penitentiary system”, he said.
The measure was approved during a cabinet meeting at the Miraflores Palace after being suggested by President Hugo Chávez, who last week approved 413 million bolivars ($96 million) to reform the prison system.
According to the government, the role of the new ministry will be to “strengthen the policies of comprehensive care for the prisoner population”, to “deepen the strategic humanisation plan for the penitentiary system” and “to dignify the lives of prisoners while behind bars”.
Immediate solutions to problems within the penitentiary system - such as prisoners’ access to healthcare, education, work, as well as their guaranteed reintegration into mainstream society - will also be summarily put into effect by the new ministry.
The government’s move to intensify its humanisation plan comes as it launches an investigation into the deaths of 20 prisoners who were killed during a confrontation at El Rodeo I prison near Caracas earlier this week.
During the press conference El Aissami highlighted the steps already taken by the government to improve conditions within Venezuelan jails, such as educational, cultural and sports projects, social re-integration, professional development, family participation and an emphasis on values.
The minister also mentioned the penitentiary community in Falcón, a state of the art “humanist” prison built in 2008 which allows inmates to form cooperative businesses, emphasises rehabilitation, and welcomes the role of prisoner’s family within that process.
Elsie Rosales, Director of the Institute of Penal Studies at the Central University of Venezuela, welcomed the creation of the ministry. “We should be aware of the problem, submit it to public opinion, debate it, with transparency and honesty,” she said on the state television channel.
Organic Penal Code and Community Cohesion
In order to speed up the reform process, El Aissami has requested that the National Assembly accelerate its approval of the Penal Code, a legislative document that will provide the legal framework within which the new ministry will operate. The National Assembly passed the bill for the code in April.
The Organic Penal Code will allow for the implementation of measures to help inmates’ families and provide a “productive apparatus” for prisoners, as well as guaranteeing their human rights.
Community participation in the reintegration of prisoners into society, including that of universities and charities, is also detailed within the Organic Penal Code, with article 500 stressing the protagonistic role of communal councils within the process.
The objective of the penal code and the creation of the new ministry is to ensure that inmates “leave (prison) liberated, towards a new socialist life that will make them good men and women,” said El Aissami.