Jailhouse Overload

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PNB officer Alexander Palencia was taken hostage by inmates on April 27th. Hours later, he was released unharmed.

In case you missed it, there was a hostage crisis last week at the Bolivarian National Police HQ in Caracas. A group of inmates took two officers as a form of protest for the overcrowding and the endless delays in their judicial process. One of the inmates died during the riot.

The standoff ended after some of the inmates were transferred to another prison. But that wasn’t the last incident of its kind: over the weekend, there was a riot in the local police HQ in Guarenas (Miranda State). It ended with a big jailbreak, a wounded officer, a shootout in the premises, and most of the escapees getting caught again.

Those two events are the clearest signal that police stations around the country are becoming a powder keg because of prisoners being held in really large numbers, under deplorable conditions. This view is shared by Humberto Prado, head of the Venezuelan Prison Observatory (OVP), which sees this as simply an extension of the crisis found in our penitentiary system.

But what’s is really causing the overcrowding? The decision by the Prisons Ministry to delay or even ban the movement of prisoners from police stations to regular prisons.

Eliseo Guzman, Director of the Miranda State Police has stated that the Ministry is putting more and more bureaucratic delays in the procedures:

…the (Prisons) Ministry previously required a folder with seven permits to request the number of transfers to different holding sites. “Now they added two more, the right of the accused and the forensic exam. With those requirements, the administrative bureaucracy of the Prisons Ministry is delaying the transfers of all detainees to jails around the country”.

The official response from the Ministry is to keep a plan released a couple of years ago with quite an unusual name: Cayapa Judicial. (If you wonder what cayapa means, read this). The plan consists of taking the courts to the prisons and accelerating the delayed processes. It was relaunched in September 2014 and has the full backing of the Judiciary.

But the crisis in our prison cells could face a new problem: Thanks to the recent decision of the central government to reduce working hours to save electricity, all courts nationwide have been ordered to reduce their schedules as well.