Venezuelan Prison Minister Orders Suspension of Imprisonment

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The new Venezuelan Minister of Correctional Services, Iris Varela, has put a hold on the admission of inmates into prisons in the country, with the exception of “highly dangerous prisoners.”

Varela, who made waves last week when she announced her ministry’s intentions to free 40 percent of Venezuela’s prison population, issued an order last Thursday suspending the admission of new inmates into prison by both the judicial branch and the country’s various police agencies until further notice, according to El Nacional.

Varela claims the move is necessary in order to cut down on overcrowding in Venezuela’s prison system, noting that there are many inmates who have been imprisoned for “three years awaiting a hearing for minor offenses.”

El Nuevo Herald reports that last week, Supreme Court president Luisa Estella Morales announced that 2,000 prisoners had been released so far by the government, all in cases where the inmates had been sentenced to prison terms under five years.

As EFE reports, President Hugo Chavez has supported the policy, but requested that the minister lift the suspension in a month, remaining in place until “early September.” In the meantime, the president directed the minister to “coordinate alternatives with various centers and agencies” of the Venezuelan government.

So far it is not yet clear how the new directive will influence police work in the country, or what it will do to the country’s already soaring crime rate. El Universal cites anonymous police sources as being taken aback at the announcement, with one officer saying that they had been “put in a very difficult situation.”

The Venezuelan murder rate stands at 47 per 100,000 people, making the country one of the most dangerous places in the world. With police and judges alike having been explicitly ordered not to send suspects to jail, criminal elements could be emboldened to take greater risks, which could potentially make the security situation in the country far worse than it already is.

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