Minister for Penitentiary Services, Iris Valera, announced that for the first time ever, inmates voted in favor of President Hugo Chavez in the recent Presidential elections. Speaking on her regular radio program ‘Don’t Deprive Yourself’, the Minister stated that 69% of inmates had voted for the victorious Chavez, proving that the Government’s humanistic approach to penitentiary is considered positive by those condemned to serve time.
“Normally, the penitentiary population vote against the government” who is responsible for depriving them of their freedom and putting them behind bars, she stated, “but this time it wasn’t like that”.
The Minister compared the policies of the Chavez government to those of the previous neoliberal governments, which she claimed had treated inmates as third class citizens, who rotted in the worst conditions possible as punishment for their crimes. She stated that “the opposition want us to go into the prisons firing guns, that we repress the prison populations, just as they did in the past”, but that the current administration is revising its approach and addressing the grave problems in the penal system by experimenting and finding a “humanistic” approach, which gives certain offenders a second chance.
Minister Valera highlighted certain frontline penal programs, such as Llegó Maíta , Cayapa, and Cambote, which she argued as are dignifying the network of 35 state prisons which, due to decades of underinvestment, are widely considered to be overcrowded, highly violent, and generally inadequate to house prisoners.
The LLegó Maíta program, which was launched in June, looks to give extra support to family members of inmates, especially mothers, by providing them with access to the government’s social “missions” and incorporating them into socio-productive employment by providing training workshops. Valera describes it as “a plan without precedents”.
The Capaya operation is aimed at speeding up the administrative proceedings to process prisoners, reducing certain complications which arise.
The Cambote program, now into its second phase, aims to renovate and redesign the penitentiary institutions across the country, both holding facilities as well as prisons. Cambote I lasted between January and June of this year, and renovated 7 facilities, whilst Cambote II was launched in September, and aims to improve and expand 10 more prisons.
“With the Plan Cambote, we will be able to recuperate the facilities, to be able to offer adequate spaces, where those who are behind bars can live in dignified and salubrious conditions” stated Minister Valera.
The plan is currently renovating 8 centers across the country, where the prisons will be increased in capacity, and will have improved toilet, dormitory, and sporting facilities, as well as better infrastructure. Under the scheme, prisoners can volunteer to work on the renovation, and payment is made available to their family members on the outside.
The Plan Cambote looks to address not only the overcrowding of the prison system, but the historical underinvestment, which has left many prisons in terrible conditions. Using similar reasoning to that employed to the general housing system of the country, the plan looks to reduce violence and criminality by treating the prisoners as dignified beings, and providing them with dignified spaces in which they will be kept.
The new neighborhoods being built by the Gran Mission Vivienda, which offer new residents a better quality of life, have already seen significant reductions in crime as they replace the network of shanty towns, which have traditionally seen higher levels of violent crime.
The Minister Valera also announced the construction of 24 new penitentiary centers during the next year, one in each state, to deal with the problem of overcrowding.
Valera was under the spotlight this week following 2 deaths at the Coro Prison. As part of the Plan Cambote, the prison was formally closed this week, and its 1600 prisoners moved to better equipped facilities in other parts of the country.
During the process of prisoner relocation a gun battle broke out, in which two men were killed. 56 guns, 11,445 bullets, and 12 grenades were found in the premises when inspected after the completion of the relocation of the inmates.
The Coro prison, which has functioned for 85 years, was deemed too far beyond repair by the Ministry, and hence was doomed to closure under the census conducted by the Plan Cambote: “In the diagnostic which we ran, it was decided that there were certain penitentiary spaces which weren’t worth repairing because of their conditions”.
Speaking outside the now closed facility, Valera stated that “this is a debt that we have with the people of Coro”. “All of the neighbors of Coro are very content and happy, because we are vacating the prison”. The prison is located in the center of Coro, an old colonial town and a UNESCO World Heritage site, in the middle of a residential district. The site will now be refurbished by the local United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) government and will hold the Symphonic Orchestra of Coro.
Commenting on the out-break of violence at the prison during the relocation of inmates, Minister Valera stated that “there are a majority which are allowing the relocation in peace… we have other facilities where they can serve their time in more dignified conditions… the violent sectors are a minority”.
In further comments made to public TV channel VTV, the Minister explained that those responsible for the violence were those who were unofficially controlling the prison through organized crime and smuggling, and who now felt threatened by the shakeup of the prison network.
“There was no riot in Coro, what there was was the result of the breaking of the routine of those people who have led the business dealings within the penitentiary facilities, a minority which has confronted the majority of the inmates, who didn’t want to stay as they were losing control of the prison to the penitentiary authorities which are now arriving”.
“Normally when a prison is relocated, they know that we do a meticulous check of the facilities… so we presume that it (the violence) is part of a reaction from certain inmates who want to erase the evidence and use up the munitions,” she added.
The Minister also launched a rebuttal against sectors of the MUD opposition, who, through their media outlet, Globovision, have heavily criticized the government’s approach to the prisons.
In response to comments made by Humberto Prado on Globovision, Minister Valera stated that “it was Prado, when he was director of Yare Prison, who started with the situation of the creation of the mafias, of the introduction of arms, and even drugs into the prison”. She also commented that in her opinion “there are many delinquents who are not in the prisons, despite the fact that they do the worst damage”, which she went on to define as “white collar delinquents”.
Edited by Venezuelanalysis.com