Saturday, August 03, 2013

A small step to reduce prison overcrowding

One scandal in El Salvador is the horrendous overcrowding of its prisons.  Not only are the conditions inhumane, but the overcrowding increases violence within the prisons and makes any chance of rehabilitation remote.  There are more than 26,000 inmates in 19 prisons designed to hold a total of 8000 prisoners.

From an article at InfoSurHoy:
“Overcrowding has reached critical levels,” Hernández said. “If we take into account the design of these buildings, many of these prisons do not allow for effective control of the prison population. As a result, we have stressful spaces where daily life is a struggle. Stress levels in penitentiaries are very high.” 
Silvia de Bonilla, a criminal attorney and candidate for Public Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights, is concerned by what she’s seen during her visits to prisons and the National Civil Police’s (PNC) holding cells. 
“In the prisons and holding cells, the environment is harmful to inmates,” she said. “I’ve seen up to 40 men being held in a cell that is no larger than four square meters, if not less. Those men live like bats. They used their pants to make hammocks in order to be able to sleep in the rafters. I counted 10 improvised hammocks. They were packed in, they couldn’t even get up. There’s no space and they keep packing more people in.” 
Omar Flores, a criminologist with El Salvador’s Foundation for the Study and Application of the Law, agrees with de Bonilla.   “The overcrowding is shocking and it hampers the re-socialization process in these places, which have become human warehouses,” he added.
To address these conditions, the article reports, El Salvador plans to expand the capacity of the system for an additional 13,000 spaces:

  [T]he funds will go toward the following projects:
  • The building of a prison in the eastern region of El Salvador;
  • The expansion of the Izalco prison in the department of Sonsonate;
  • The expansion of prison farms in the municipalities of Izalco and Santa Ana, where inmates reduce sentences through work;
  • The construction of a prison farm in the municipality of Zacatecoluca in the department of La Paz;
  • The purchase of 2,000 electronic monitoring bracelets to expand the conditional release program....
The initiatives will allow the system to accommodate an additional 13,000 prisoners – 5,000 in the new prison, 3,000 at the expanded Izalco prison, 3,000 at the prison farms and 2,000 through alternative sentences, as the electronic bracelets will allow more convicts to be placed under house arrest.
 Much more is need than just space.  There need to be effective programs to identify and divert inmates who are not yet hardened criminals and give them opportunities to return to society.  There needs to be a better system of pretrial detention which does not put persons awaiting trial into the same system as convicts.   But at least addressing overcrowded prisons is a first step, if El Salvador does not simply fill those spaces with even more prisoners.


Senor Pescador said...

the stats show there is a high population from small scale drugs possesion, this has to stop and will eliminate maybe?? 20-30% of the populations, not sure of the stats but it has to e close, a real travesty in Latin America I posted on my FB some of the data files in regards quite heinous however things are turning around

Norma Richards said...

Fixing the architecture is one thing, changing its composition is another. It would still be best to separate the truly guilty from the fairly innocent, and for people to not have to be incarcerated for small crimes. At the very least, they should have greater capacity to post bail, so they won't have to spend too much of their time being punished before their sentence.

Norma Richards @ Just Bail Bonds