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New Venezuelan Prison Regulations Seek to Protect Human Rights

A scene from a violent riot in Venezuela's Uribana prison A scene from a violent riot in Venezuela's Uribana prison

Venezuela has implemented new regulations in 14 of the country's prisons in an attempt to reform the notoriously violent penal system, although it remains to be seen whether the measures will be enforced effectively. 

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Under the new regulations, prisoners will receive job training and participate in monitored group activities, wear uniforms, and be granted two official visits per month and one phone call per week. Venezuela's Prison Minister Iris Varela said the new system was intended to help protect the inmates' human rights, adding that they were "receiving attention for complete transformation and social reinsertion." According to Varela, inmates have no access to weapons.

Among the jails testing the new system is a prison in Miranda, one of Venezuela's most violent states. Some of the other jails are located in the states of Merida, Lara, and Tachira.

The government has also pledged 153 million bolivares ($24.3 million, according to the official Venezuelan exchange rate) towards repairing the Uribana jail, where a major massacre occurred in January, and 51 million bolivares ($8.1 million) toward improvements and repairs to 10 other jails.

InSight Crime Analysis

When Varela was appointed as Venezuela's first prison minister in 2011, she promised widespread reforms with a "humanist" approach to one of the world's most brutal prison systems. However, attempts at reform have failed to address the severe violence in many of the country's prisons, where over 500 prisoners died during the first year after the creation of the Prison Ministry. Over 100 firearms were found following the Uribana prison massacre, pointing to a lack of control over these institutions.

The reforms being tested in the 14 prisons are unlikely to have the desired impact unless they move to address major concerns, including corruption, overcrowding, and poor training among prison guards. Prisons are often run by gang leaders, known as "pranes," who run black market economies that help fuel inmate violence, thanks in large part to corrupt wardens.

Though Varela claims that the ministry has made progress in controlling the prison system, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH) reported in June that "serious structural deficiencies" continued to affect the human rights of prisoners.

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