Colombia to expand 9 prisons to fight overcrowding

Posted on Jul 31 2014 - 12:13pm by Today News
(Photo: Facultad de Artes Universidad Nacional)

Nine of Colombia’s jails and prisons will be expanded in an attempt to reduce the country’s overcrowded penitentiaries, according to a report by National Penitentiary and Prison Institute.

The program is set to create 6,300 new cells by the end of 2018 by expanding on nine prisons and jails across the country.


The nine prisons have 76,553 cells for inmates, which are currently inhabited by 117,018 people. The project headed by the Unit of Correctional Services and Prison (USPEC) plans to create 6,300 new cells across the country, according to Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper.

In June of this year, the overcrowding of jails and prisons was reduced by 4.5%. Last year, overcrowding accounted for 57.8% while recent data shows that figure has dropped to 53.3%, according to National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (INPEC).

Of those imprisoned, 40,480 are accused and have not been sentenced. Gloria Maria Borrero, director of the Excellence in Justice Corporation, suggested a solution in El Tiempo. To combat overcrowding, imprisonment “should be applied only when needed and there is a risk that people do not cooperate with the law. For the rest, while on trial, the accused should be on the street.”


The design of the expansions

The new living spaces for inmates will have their perks and are being designed by an expert in prison architecture.

“We do prison cells or wards, prisons do quotas and medium security sectors,” said Oliver Caldas, an architect who heads the project designed by the National University. Caldas also ensured that the extensions would improve the quality of life of the inmates.

According to Caldas, there is also the possibly of including “internal multiple categories” where pavilions for women will be created. “We are defining the matter with INPEC. The idea is to be integral and regional with solutions.”

Each expansion will create a cell or bedroom and will include spaces for food, health, education, religion, entertainment, family, conjugal visits, and court, according to El Tiempo.

The company promoted that the “locations will be with decent housing, healthy recreation and rehabilitation programs.”

Gloria Maria Borrero, Director of Excellence in Justice Corporation, told El Tiempo that the nine facilities are “a good step for the dignity of human beings in prisons.”

Relocation woes

The expansions might call for relocation of 6,300 inmates to balance major overcrowding in certain jails. This can call for separation of the inmate and his/her family.

“The hardest thing that can happen to an inmate is being away from your family,” said Fredy Paez, legal representative of the Association of Relatives.

 Does expansion actually fight overcrowding?

“The solution to the prison problem is not confined to the construction of new prisons,” said the Ombudsman. But for the time, remodeling can be “a reasonable solution to the high levels of overcrowding.”

According to data by INPEC, a prison in the northeastern state of Riohacha recorded a 454% of overpopulation. With only space for 100 inmates, a prison in Riohacha housed 554.

Prisons in Magangue (360.7%), Santa Marta (342.3%), Valledupar (284%) and Cali (273.7%) have similar issues with overcrowding.

Maria del Pilar Bahamon, director of USPEC, said that there will new prisons built in Riohacha, La Guajira, and in Magdalena.

More jails may be built but it all stems back to the budget.

The company is also looking into building a jail in Pereira; however, according to Bahamon, “The possible structures of these new prisons arise from the need to remove existing prisons urban areas and a court decision needs to be made ordering the measure.”


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