Venezuela Deepens Project to Humanise Nation’s Penitentiary System

The Minister of Venezuela’s recently established Penitentiary Service, Iris Varela, vowed to “transform prison centres” last week as she continued to advance the national census of the country’s jails. 


Caracas, November 6th 2011 ( – The Minister of Venezuela’s recently established Penitentiary Service, Iris Varela, vowed to “transform prison centres” last week as she continued to advance the national census of the country’s jails.

Varela is currently visiting all prisons throughout the country in order to assess living conditions and carry out a registration of inmates; a move which the minister hopes will be the first step in humanising the nation’s penitentiary centres and addressing the country’s problems with hold-ups in the judicial system.

In comments made to Venezuelan news sources, Varela said that she had visited 28 out of the 32 penitentiary centres in the country and that over 34,000 prisoners had been included in the census so far.

“This is part of a new methodology which is part of implementing a new penitentiary system straight away, (a system) directed exclusively towards the care of prisoners,” said the minister.

The census forms part of the minister’s Strategic Penitentiary Plan (2011 – 2013) and is due to conclude on December 2nd. According to Varela, the logic behind the plan is to tackle the issue of crime from “its origins”, as opposed to just “attacking the consequences”.

“We are going to the country’s penitentiary centres in order to transform the reality of those people who find themselves deprived of their freedoms, to give them the opportunity which they really deserve as human beings,” she said.

Registration and Inspection

Whereas the Venezuelan penal code states that prisoners may apply to receive “benefits” for good behaviour after a certain amount of time, Varela confirmed that some prisoners had not been receiving them, despite meeting the criteria.

 “Our visit is not just to carry out the registration, but also to do an inspection. We are sitting down with judges and they are responding to the cases that we are detecting where people should have been enjoying some kind of benefit but they haven’t been granted it,” said the minister.

During a consultation with inmates at the José Antonio jail in Anzoátegui, Varela confirmed that one of the greatest concerns expressed by prisoners were delays in the penal process. In response, Varela arranged transport for a number of prisoners to be taken to courthouses where their cases could be reviewed.

“38 vehicles arrived for us, each with a capacity to transport 10 people, with their respective custody officers, which will help us to take the defendants to the courthouses,” said Varela, explaining that a lack of transport was a key cause of judicial delays. 

According to the minister, many of the 2,100 prisoners currently serving sentences at the centre in Anzoátegui are involved in some kind of further education or training programme, a development which she attributes to the revolution’s progress.

“Once more, this is further evidence of the great effort that the Bolivarian revolution has made to bring education missions to the prison population of the country, so that when our compatriots leave here, it is not just a difficult chapter in their life, but a transition towards another opportunity, because they come out with further qualifications,” said Varela.

Large Effort

Last Friday, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez publically praised Varela for her “gigantic effort” and good work, but stated that there was still “a lot of injustice in the penitentiary service”.  He  also commented that one of the main goals of the recently announced Work and Knowledge Mission will be to train and rehabilitate the nation’s prison population.

“Justice must be done…penitentiary centres must be where the new man is formed,” said Chavez.

President Chavez named Varela as head of the newly created ministry in July with the intention of reforming Venezuela’s overcrowded prisons. As well as improving living conditions for inmates, the new ministry is also designed to expand upon the country’s rehabilitation process and to address the root causes of crime which lead to imprisonment.