Colombia’s Deputy Prosecutor General has called for changes in the country’s prison policy following a deadly jailhouse fire that broke out in the north of the country, reportedly killing 10 and injuring dozens more, reported national media on Thursday.
The fire broke out Monday night in a prison near the coastal city of Barranquilla, reportedly following a riot that erupted during a routine inspection. Built with a maximum capacity of 700, the prison reportedly housed over 1,000 inmates.
Deputy Prosecutor General Jorge Fernando Perdomo said “(…)the important thing is how to prevent people from entering prison,” calling the current prison situation in Colombia a ticking “time bomb.”
According to national media, the country’s prison population has seen an increase of 50% over the past two years.
Meanwhile, the overcrowding of prisons has been a growing concern across Colombia. Last week, Colombia’s Ministry of Justice signed off on a plan to reform the penal code that could result in the release of between 7,000-9,000 prisoners from jails or the reduction of their sentences. The Inspector General’s Office, meanwhile, has announced an investigation into the Colombian prison authorities regarding Monday’s fire.
Perdomo told national media sources that building new prisons would not be an efficient long-term solution considering the rapid increase of the prison population.
“It’s very important to build prisons, but not the only solution. Nor is releasing people from prison as a result of overcrowding(…),” he said and noted the already poor conditions of overcrowded prisons, “it’s about humanity, reasons for guaranteeing fundamental rights of delinquents. The offenders are also entitled to their fundamental rights.”
Several prisons in the country are experiencing severe overcrowding. The “Modelo” prison in the country’s capital, Bogota has the capacity to hold 2,000 inmates, however the prison is currently housing more than 7,000, according to national media.