Colombia’s congress and interim prosecutor general are bickering about who is responsible for the pending release of at least 14,000 alleged criminals, 2,000 of whom allegedly face charges of sexual abuse of children.
The alleged criminals could be released from prison if Congress does not adapt the law countering an April court order that sought the release of some 20,000 crime suspects who are held in overcrowded prisons without being formally indicted.
The court order followed a years-long crisis in Colombia’s overcrowded prisons where humanitarian conditions are worsening amid failing attempts to effectively prosecute suspects.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Justice, among the detainees that could be released are 4,837 who have served more than three years without a trial already, and a further 6,127 who have served more than two.
Colombia’s congress has been slow in responding to the court order because of the chronic absence of lawmakers and a recent congressional boycott of opposition party Democratic Center, but also because it hesitates to arbitrarily extend legal time limits.
The lack of speed spurred interim Prosecutor General Jorge Perdomo to urge Congress to act, warning that among those that could be released are “997 suspects of the rape of children younger than 14” and “1,053 suspects of sexual abuse of children younger than 14,” the age of consent in Colombia.
Additionally, Perdomo said, some 1,907 homicide suspects, 2,913 alleged drug traffickers and 513 alleged extortionists could be released unless Congress bars this pending release before June 20, the last day of the congressional year.
But Congress refuses to take responsibility if these crime suspects are released and is hesitant to extend the legal time limits for the prosecution to indict suspects.
Additionally, extending the time a suspect can be prosecuted would only aggravate the already horrendous situation in prisons that in some cases have overcrowding rates approaching 400%.
Liberal Party Senator Viviane Morales, who was Prosecutor General between 2010 and 2012, blamed the prosecution of having failed to timely prosecute crime suspects, claiming that slow prosecution mechanisms do not just threaten the release of possible hardened criminals, but also impede the release of innocent people.
Extending the time limit to file charges could also increase the amount of time possibly innocent suspects
“If there is a risk of inmates being released this is because of negligence in the judicial branch and in government,” Senator Claudia Lopez (Green Alliance) said.