Colombia’s ombudsman called on the national government to declare a state of emergency Monday in response to dangerous prison conditions and continued worker strikes.
“We are asking the national Government to solve this serious problem, which is important to ensure national order. There is no city in the country that does not have problems of overcrowding, and public health services for inmates,” said Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otalora in a statement to the press Monday.
Recent strikes by employees of the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (INPEC) have put the spotlight on problems of serious over-crowding, violence, and poor conditions for both inmates and prison staff.
On Thursday, 1000 INPEC prison guards went on strike, citing poor working conditions, over-crowding and inhumane conditions.
“We cannot talk about reconciliation and processes of peace on the one hand, when on the other hand we are mistreating and ignoring the rights of other human beings,” continued Otalora.
Ortalora argued that the problem is not just a question of human rights violations, but also the large amount of money spent by the government as a result due to legal cases involving prison conditions.
According to Otalora, current lawsuits over illegal detentions and abuse of prisoners could cost the government $12,000, money which could be used to improve the prison system and take the pressure off prison staff and authorities.
INPEC says that 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 a May ombudsman’s report. In July, reports from regional authorities stated that prisons in the northern states of Bolivar and La Guajira were overcrowded by 400%.
In the city of Barranquilla alone, fires in overcrowded prisons have cost the lives of 23 inmates this year.
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