Violence in Venezuela Prisons Claims Over 400 Lives in 2011

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An NGO reported that the number of prisoners killed in custody in 2011 has already surpassed the total for 2010, making the Venezuelan jails among the most dangerous in the world.

The Venezuelan Prison Observatory (Observatorio Venezolando de Prisiones – OVP), a non-governmental organization that monitors conditions and treatment in Venezuela’s penitenciary system, reported that 457 inmates have been killed and 1,061 have been seriously wounded while in custody this year.

Violence is nothing new in Venezuela’s prison system, which is considered one of the world’s most dangerous. However, 2011 is likely to go on record as the deadliest in 12 years if the violence continues at the same levels through November and December.

Venezuela’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded. A network of 30 short and long-term facilities, originally designed to hold approximately 14,000 inmates, currently house over 50,000 individuals.

In June, President Chavez appointed a new prison minister, Iris Varela, after violence broke out in prisons around the country. Following Chavez’s announcement the government would invest $96 million in prison reform, Minister Varela vowed to expedite the release of 20,000 non-violent inmates in an effort to reduce overcrowding.

With prisoner-to-guard ratio as high as 63 to 1, according to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, it is hardly surprising that inmates often run the prisons in Venezuela. Gang leaders, known as “pranes,” in Venezuela’s prisons have orchestrated riots, mass kidnappings, and hostage situations as demonstrations of their power, in order to pressure prison officials into bargaining with them.

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