In Bolivia, Inmates Buy Prison Cells for up to $10,000: Report

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A Bolivian newspaper report reveals details of the internal economies within the country’s prisons, where cells are sold for as much as $10,000, and prison authorities say it’s not their role to intervene.

The price of a cell depends on its location in the facility, with those in La Paz’s San Pedro prison ranging from $300 to $10,000, according to La Razon. Some inmates own two cells, one in which to live and another to rent, while others buy a cell, make improvements, and then sell it for a profit, said the report.

According to La Razon, some inmates in the Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz have constructed their own cells, which cost $8,000.

The president of the inmate “council of representatives” in San Pedro, Limber Porcel, told the newspaper that the cells are assigned by seniority. He admitted that the council asks for monthly payments from inmates, but said that these go to a “communal fund” used for maintenance, repairs, and improvements to common areas.

The current head of the prison system told La Razon that an investigation had not been conducted because inmates “have their own rules and are governed by their council of representatives.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The United Nations has said that inmates in Bolivia endure “inhuman” conditions. Much of this stems from massive overcrowding. In the summer of 2010, the prison population was nearly double its estimated capacity. Some 84 percent of inmates have yet to face trial.

In San Pedro, 30 to 45 new inmates enter each week, while an average of three are released. As a result, many new inmates must sleep in hallways.

Budget shortfalls have limited the funding for prison guards in Bolivia, leaving inmates to run the prisons themselves in many cases. Inmates have formed organizations known as councils, whose members charge “taxes” from fellow prisoners. According to the Andean Information Network, these charges go towards communal funds which “are spent according to collective decision on infrastructure improvement, income-generating initiatives, and assistance for indigent inmates.”

Some Bolivian media reports, however, present the taxes as closer to extortion payments. However, a council in a prison in Cochabamba reportedly organized a protest in response to an extortion ring in the prison that was charging inmates “life insurance” fees, and convinced prison authorities to transfer the offenders.

Meanwhile the council at San Pedro prison recently voted on a resolution demanding the dismissal of the national director of prison security, who they say intimidated and abused inmates.

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