Bolivia May Release 5,000 Inmates to Combat Overcrowding

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In an effort to ease overcrowding in its troubled prison system, the Bolivian government announced that it may pardon and release up to 5,000 low-risk inmates in the country.

The Bolivian minister of prisons, Ramiro Llanos, told EFE that the government is weighing the release of thousands of prisoners as a means of reducing pressure on the country’s penitentiary system. According to Llanos, overcrowding is a major challenge for Bolivian prisons, with some even facing “collapse.”

Bolivia’s prisons are currently operating at nearly double capacity. This has taken a toll on prison conditions. According to a February 2011 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, overcrowding forces many Bolivian inmates to live in “inhuman” conditions.

Llanos said that officials are considering pardoning prisoners with sentences of less than eight years, including those who had been imprisoned for working as “drug mules” but who had no prior convictions. He also said some inmates who “show remorse and need another chance” could be pardoned as well.

The minister stressed that economic factors played a large contribution to most criminals’ lives. According to Llanos, Bolivia’s prison population is mostly indigenous, and 98 percent of inmates are poor.

InSight Crime Analysis

Overcrowding is an unfortunate hallmark of prisons throughout Latin America, and Bolivia is not alone in considering early releases as a remedy to the problem. ·In August 2011, Venezuela’s newly-appointed prisons minister said that she was in favor of releasing 40 percent of the 50,000 inmates in the country and subsequently issued a temporary moratorium on new admissions to jails. Chile is attempting to ease overcrowding by releasing some 720 foreign prisoners from 28 different countries at the country’s border with Peru. Although they will be let free, the individuals will be banned from entering Chile again.

While these measures may be relatively easy to implement, they are not permanent solutions to the problem. Aside from building more prison facilities, Latin American governments may have more success by reducing the number of suspects held in pre-trial detention. As InSight Crime has noted, notoriously slow and inefficient court systems in the region guarantee that many held in preventative detention wait months before their case is heard in court, a civil rights concern as well as a potential waste of law enforcement resources.

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