The Riohacha prison in Colombia’s northern coastal region is overcrowded by 438%, according to a report released by government human rights observers Wednesday.
The national Ombudsman’s Office is calling for immediate measures to guarantee the human rights of the prisoners, who lack basic services and live under what the report referred to as “deplorable conditions.”
Following an inspection last weekend alongside prison authorities, the local ombudsman “reiterated to the mayor of Riohacha and to the Nacional Penitentiary and Prison Institute (INPEC) the need to take urgent action against the grave humanitarian situation the inmates live under,” according to the report.
Built with a maximum capacity of 100 inmates, Riohacha — located in the northern state of La Guajira — currently holds 538 individuals, giving it the distinction of being the most overcrowded prison in a country with 58% overpopulation overall in its prisons.
Prisoners sleep on top of one another, giving rise to various “epidemics” among the population. A lack of fluids in the heavy tropical heat also contributes to a laundry list of health problems, including skin diseases, epidemics, cerebral ischemia, seizures and more, according to the report.
The Ombudsman Office claims that local authorities have been aware of the situation and have already bought land to build other penal institutions. Even this solution, which human rights advocates say is not sustainable in the long term, will not bring the immediate relief the Ombudsman’s Office has deemed necessary.
A national problem
In Colombia, overcrowding extends well beyond Riohacha.
|A lack of fluids in the heavy tropical heat also contributes to a laundry list of health problems, including skin diseases, epidemics, cerebral ischemia, seizures and more, according to the report.|
According to INPEC, Colombia’s 138 prisons “house” over 41,000 prisoners more than they are built to. With a total capacity of 76,519, Colombia’s prisons hold 117,737 individuals, according to the ombudsman’s report.
Riohacha is by no means the only prison where inmates face the effects of serious overpopulation. The Modelo prison in Bogota, for example, reportedly holds 5,000 people over its capacity. Cali‘s Villahermosa prison, meanwhile, has an overcrowding rate of over 300%.
A prison fire following a riot in another coastal prison drew attention to the issue earlier this year.
One measure implemented in 2013 sought to relieve pressure on the strained system by providing for the release of as many as 9,000 inmates convicted for minor offenses. The prisoners in question could be freed from prison on parole or house arrest, or given opportunities to reduce their sentences.
So far, however, no long term solution has been put forth to address the country’s rising incarceration rate and limited penitentiary resources.
Colombia Reports was able to reach the offices of both the local mayor and ombudsman, but neither was available for comment at the time this article was published.