Venezuela’s Justice Minister Launches New “Humanist” Prisons

Mérida, April 29, 2008 (—Venezuela’s new “socialist” penitentiary system will be inaugurated by the end of this year, according to the Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín.

As a step in this direction, the construction of Venezuela’s first “humanist” prison, which is "one of the most modern facilities worldwide,” was finished last week in the city of Coro, the minister reported last week.

“A large part of our effort in the jails is directed at the family,” the minister told the press Monday, explaining that in the new system families of inmates will be permitted to reside nearby and participate regularly in the lives of prisoners who qualify for such forms of rehabilitation.

Also, the new prisons provide facilities for prisoners to set up cooperatives and socialist production projects in which their families may participate, “always following the principle that those who go to jail are human beings who may be rehabilitated,” Chacín said.

This initiative is based on Venezuela’s 1999 constitution, and is also part of the government’s efforts at “Revision, Rectification, and Re-Advance,” or the “three Rs,” which characterize the time period since the constitutional reform referendum was defeated at the polls last December, the minister explained.

“The human beings that are serving jail time should live humanely. In this sense, it is necessary to change the penitentiary system,” Chacín reflected.

The minister also said he sent a “rectification plan” to improve citizen security to President Chávez this week, which outlines the upcoming efforts to implement the recently decreed National Police Law.

In the spirit of this plan, the ministry has implemented a new method of citing homicide statistics. In the past, the number of homicide cases was cited, without counting the actual number of deaths, which could be several per case. Now, the minister said, the number of total deaths will be counted.

Chacín will personally meet tomorrow with the police chiefs from all 126 state and municipal forces in Venezuela at the headquarters of the federal investigative police force, the DISIP, in order to explain thoroughly the changes mandated by the new law and formulate local work plans to implement the law with room for the chiefs’ discretion.

“Each region is different, but the general guidelines, the policy is the same… [the National Police Law] gives us the authority to make demands, and then afterward what we do is supervise, constantly reviewing and remaining vigilant, that the law is being carried out,” Chacín said.

This week, the Vice Ministry of Citizen Security, Tarek El-Aissami, will be sent to Zulia state to meet with the regional security forces and form a special anti-kidnapping team as a response to the recent escalation in ransom kidnappings there.

Also, Minister Chacín plans to create a technical commission to intervene in local security forces to investigate denunciations of police abuse, “human rights violations,” and other police misconduct, as mandated by the National Police Law.

Lastly, the minister plans to meet with the National Guard in each region to identify and define the reach and functions of the new national police force.

Even though homicides in some states have increased in the past year, the Minister told the press Monday, the national total decreased from 763 to 573 over the course of 2007.