The ombudsman of Colombia’s third largest city, Cali, said Thursday the city’s biggest prison with 5,830 inmates is living through a “humanitarian crisis” due to appalling sanitary conditions and overcrowding.
The ombudsman’s office said Cali’s Villahermosa prison, originally built for roughly 1,700 inmates, was overcrowded by 350%. Meanwhile, the prison’s four story building did not comply with established construction norms, while the sanitary system was considered precarious. Risks were also found in the prison’s electrical system.
The report said only 180 prison wardens were available to deal with the 5,830 prisoners, which put the lives of inmates and guards alike at risk. Because of the overcrowding, prisoners reportedly experienced respiration problems and three recent cases of tuberculosis prompted the isolation of the sick inmates in order to avoid an epidemic.
Andres Santamaria, Cali’s ombudsman, said the standards of the prison did not live up to the norms stipulated by Colombian regulations. Santamaria asked the National Institute of Penitentiaries and Prisons (INPEC) to take immediate steps to decrease the prison population by 50% in order to avoid a possible collapse of the prison building. The ombudsman also asked authorities to improve physical and sanitary conditions to guarantee dignified conditions for the prison population. Furthermore, Santamaria asked to decrease the risk of fire outbreak by coordinating better with Cali’s fire department.
The director of INPEC, mayor general Gustavo Adolfo Ricaurte, responded to the ombudsman’s office report by saying he hoped that some inmates in Colombia’s many overcrowded prisons could serve their sentences in home detainment or go on conditional parole.