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Venezuela doesn’t believe it needs more jails


Caracas : The head of the Penitentiary Service of Venezuela does not believe it is necessary to build more prisons and said that, in fact, the government is studying eliminating some penal institutions.

In an interview published Tuesday by the daily Ultimas Noticias, Iris Varela also said that the government plans to begin rotating guards and administrators among different prisons to reduce corruption.

“It’s not necessary to build more prisons, under no circumstances. With those that were planned, it’s enough, and with the refurbishment of some,” said Varela, referring to the country’s 34 prisons, which have an official population of 44,520 inmates, though they were designed to hold fewer than 15,000.

“Better that we think about eliminating some that have been emblematic and have been a problem in” the cities where they are located, she said.

On the other hand, she said that cellphones are going to be prohibited inside the prisons after authorities found that extortion was being committed using them, and public telephones will be installed for the prisoners to use in communicating with their families.

Last Saturday, the government launched the so-called Penitentiary Plan to deal with problems such as violence, overcrowding and court delays, which Caracas hopes to resolve by sending evaluation boards to the prisons.

At the end of July, Varela said that 40 percent of the country’s inmates, those charged with minor offenses, should be released from prison and that her office would initiate a “decongestion” plan for the sake of “justice”.

President Hugo Chavez created the Penitentiary Service Ministry July 26 just after Venezuela’s longest and biggest prison system crisis occurred at the El Rodeo II prison near Caracas, where for almost a month about 1,000 prisoners took over the facility and resisted a military siege.

In 2010, 476 inmates died and 958 were injured in Venezuela’s prisons, according to figures compiled by non-governmental organisations.