Prison guards in the south of Colombia on Wednesday protested overcrowding in their penitentiaries, working conditions for staff and low wages, among other issues.
More than 80 prison officials working in the Las Heliconias and El Cunduy prisons in the city of Florencia, Caqueta, took to the streets in a motorized demonstration with whistles and banners, according to local newspaper El Lider. They were also joined by security guards and administrative officials.
The prison officials are demonstrating to further the negotiations put forward by the unions protesting in Bogota, who have developed an extensive list of demands: bonus increases, improved working conditions and wage levels, among others.
Colombia’s National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (Inpec) is the agency responsible for the incarceration and subsequent rehabilitation of convicted criminal offenders, as well as the administration of the penitentiary institutions throughout the country.
Why the protests?
Giovanni Benavides, Inpec spokesman for the prison officials in Caqueta, said the protest is to get the attention of the government.
“Our prisons are crowded with people and we do not have enough permanent staff to care for them. Working conditions and wages are poor. Therefore we support the Regulation Plan and ask the government to pay attention to our list of demands and to negotiate with Inpec officials.”
According to Benavides, prison officials earn a base salary of $400 and a bonus payment of about $250, which covers night shifts, Sundays and overtime on festivals. The men who protested yesterday say it is very little for the amount of work they do; bodyguards and security guards usually work 100 hours a week when the Labour Code says it should be 48 hours on average.
“We work more than double and are not paid for these nights, Sundays and festival overtimes; it’s simply recognized as a bonus,” said Benavides.
Colombia’s prisons: excessively overcrowded
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.
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%.
The protests come after a Colombian man was sentenced to five months and six days in La Picota, one of Colombia’s harshest prisons reserved for drug traffickers and organised crime members, for the theft of two boxes of chocolate.
Colombia’s Minister of Justice, Alfonso Gomez, spoke to Blu Radio about the sentence, saying that not all crimes require a person to go to jail. Prisoners in overcrowded facilities are often forced to sleep on top of each other, and face serious “epidemics” and health problems including skin diseases, epidemics, cerebral ischemia, seizures and more, according to the ombudsman’s report.
- Los guardianes protestaron (La Nacion)
- Caravana de protesta por parte del Inpec (El Lider)
- Protesta de sindicatos de Inpec (El Tiempo)
- La carcel de Riohacha, la mas hacinada del pais, nuevamente alcanza nivel record de internos (Ombudsman Office)