Close to 70 prisoners are being held in a park in Bogota, underscoring both the unsustainable levels of overcrowding in Colombia’s detention centers and the government’s failure to provide adequate solutions.
The prisoners have been housed in the park for a few months, since there are no spaces for them in the nearby La Granja detention center in western Bogota’s Engativa neighborhood, reported El Tiempo. Some of the inmates are living in tents their families purchased, while others sleep outside, reported RCN. According to El Tiempo, those who can afford it pay to use a bathroom in a nearby restaurant, while the others are forced to relieve themselves in bottles and bags they find in the park.
Both male and female prisoners are reportedly being held in the park, including individuals arrested for armed robbery, homicide and rape. They are watched 24 hours a day by metropolitan police officers.
Bogota Government Secretary Hugo Zarrate said the inmates would soon be transferred to the district prison, but the process of opening up spaces in the detention center is expected to take another three weeks.
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Like many countries in Latin America, Colombia has a serious problem with overpopulated prisons. Colombia’s prisons are on average around 55 percent over capacity. This figure was even higher before the country released thousands of inmates earlier this year in an attempt to reduce overcrowding. According to El Tiempo, the detention center in La Granja — where the prisoners in the park should have been housed — is one of the worst in this regard, and was 255 percent over capacity in 2013.
In addition to releasing prisoners, Colombia has also modified its penal code to encourage alternatives to prison time, although this measure has been criticized for leading to high levels of impunity.
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In the past, Colombian authorities have used other unusual locations to house prisoners, including boats and military battalions. Following his capture in 2007, Colombian drug trafficker Diego Montoya Sanchez, alias “Don Diego,” was held in a ship in the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by warships, submarines, and satellites to prevent his cronies from attempting to free him.
Aside from the obvious safety and human rights issues inherent in housing prisoners in a city park, the current situation also highlights the government’s failure to provide sustainable solutions to prison overcrowding. Measures like releasing prisoners early are only temporary fixes, and if the current peace processes between Colombia’s government and the country’s main rebel groups result in agreements, Colombia will likely have to contend with a new flood of prisoners with nowhere to put them.