Venezuela: Improving Prison Conditions

Working to improve conditions in the nation’s prison system by implementing a policy based on respect for human rights, the Venezuelan National Assembly unanimously passed a new Penitentiary Code bill last Tuesday. 

By Correo del Orinoco International

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Members of Venezuela's Orchestra of the Penitentiary System practice while armed guards stand nearby (Archive).
Members of Venezuela's Orchestra of the Penitentiary System practice while armed guards stand nearby (Archive).
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Working to improve conditions in the nation’s prison system by implementing a policy based on respect for human rights, the Venezuelan National Assembly unanimously passed a new Penitentiary Code bill last Tuesday.

The bill, comprised of 378 articles, seeks to reduce violence currently affecting incarcerated populations, improve rehabilitation programs and guarantee prison conditions in line with the humanistic values of the country’s constitution.

At its core are four main principles including the respect for human rights, the classification of inmates, the establishment of sanctions for those who violate accepted norms in the treatment of those serving time, and the development of alternative sentences related to conditional freedom, study and work.

According to Yelite Santaella, chair of the National Assembly’s Penitentiary Commission, after passing the nation’s congress the bill will be discussed in grassroots assemblies known as the Pueblo Legislador, or the People’s Legislature.

“In the coming days, this bill will be in the street with the mothers, fathers and family members of those incarcerated. It will be with the People’s Legislature, so that this wisdom, which our people have, can provide feedback and perfect the legal instrument”, she said.

Venezuela’s prisons have been known for their overcrowding and poor conditions, facts echoed by the exposition of motives of the bill which calls the current penitentiary structure a “chaotic and violent” system which “continues to display an inhumane and lethal face”.

Ignored and left to decay by previous governments, the nation’s penitentiaries first took on renewed importance in 1999 when certain prisoners’ rights were written into article 272 of the country’s constitution.

Since then, the government has brought a series of social programs to inmate populations focused on education, the arts, sports and practical training in fields such as agriculture. 

The bill that passed the Assembly last Tuesday attempts to follow-up on these initiatives by reconciling the current gap between the prison situation and the progressive values enshrined in Venezuela’s constitution.

There are currently more than 40,000 people in Venezuela’s prison system and according to Edwin Rojas, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Justice and Internal Affairs, the number of residents behind bars has been growing due to the country’s strengthening of public safety initiatives.

“Currently, we have a penitentiary population of approximately 145 inmates per every 100 thousand inhabitants, displaying a growth in the prison population of 100 percent in only two years”, explained Rojas.

The Vice Minister estimates that the overall cost to adequately reorient the nation’s prison system will be around $300 million and take between 2 and 3 years. 

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