Report Describes Appalling Conditions in Bogota’s prisons

Justice For Colombia News | on: Friday, 21 December 2012

The horrendous conditions endured by the inmates of Bogota’s prisons have recently been documented in a report commissioned by the Colombian Inspector General’s Office (Procuraduria).This report is based on inspections of the capital’s three prisons – La Picota and La Modelo, the men’s prisons, and Buen Pastor, the women’s prison. In all three, the study documents evidence of overcrowding, lack of hygiene, and absence of care for prison inmates.

One of the most serious problems is overcrowding. The Buen Pastor prison is overcrowded by 74%: 2,175 people are held there, despite its maximum capacity being just 1,250. 31% of those women are still awaiting trial and have not yet been convicted of any crime. Similarly La Picota prison is overcrowded by 61%, with 8,066 inmates for a capacity of 4,973. In La Modelo things are even worse with 7,096 people in a prison designed to accommodate 2,968 - overcrowding of 137%.

There are several consequences to such an excessive number of people being held in these prisons: There aren’t enough mattresses so people end up sleeping in the corridors and bathrooms. The prisoners at La Modelo were last given soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes and toilet paper over a year ago. Poor hygiene facilitates the spread of respiratory and skin ailments. In one case 250 people were found to be living in a single corridor with only two bathrooms. Generally, if two toilets work, three will usually be out of order or blocked. Some prisoners are forced to eat on the floor, next to the sewers. Water supply is intermittent and the stench never goes away.

In La Modelo it is impossible to keep clean and cases were found of disabled prisoners sleeping in their own faeces. The Mental Health Unit doesn’t have a full-time psychiatric doctor and there is just one nurse for each prison block. Incontinent prisoners are not provided with adult diapers, and there is no provision for the prisoners to wash soiled bedding. Two prisoners with mental health problems were found to be held in the confinement area for men with contagious infections.

Buen Pastor is the prison from which trade unionist Liliany Obando was finally released in March this year after being held for nearly four years without conviction. The prison only has two doctors and one physiotherapist for over 2,000 inmates. When Alondra Heredia, an inmate of the same prison, fell sick, she found that being incarcerated was the least of her worries. She suffers from Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the cancer has already spread to her brain. The doctors say she needs weekly chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, but she has not had any for three months. The doctors also told her she would need morphine to manage the pain but instead she is being given paracetamol.

Colombian human rights defender David Rabelo, is a political prisoner supported by the Justice for Colombia campaign, and is currently held in La Picota. In this prison, elderly and disabled inmates, who generally do not receive support from their families, sleep on the floor. Terminally ill HIV positive prisoners do not receive any assistance whatsoever. When prisoners manage to get an appointment with the doctor, the most they are ever prescribed is ibuprofen and paracetamol.

The case of Luis Eduardo Olivares further highlights the paradoxes inflicted on prison inmates: Luis is affected by Parkinson’s and arthritis, suffers from convulsions and cannot speak or move. He should be given a special diet but to get his food he has to go to the health office, which he can’t do because he can’t move.

The Inspector General’s report is comprised of 143 pages of photos and descriptions and also includes recommendations for improving critical shortfalls.

Encouragingly, an ex-convict recently won a case against the Colombian State for the inhumane conditions he suffered in the Bellavista prison, Antioquia. The court in Antioquia ordered the State to pay him $100 million in damages and criticised the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (INPEC) for treating prisoners as third class citizens. Following the recent investigation into the state of the capital’s prisons, the director of INPEC, General Gustavo Adolfo Ricaurte, is being removed from his post, and sent as an attaché to the Colombian Embassy in Spain.

Unfortunately, the reality of prison conditions in Colombia is only publicised when an inquiry is commissioned. Prisoners are sent to jail for rehabilitation but they are failed by the authorities who send them there and there are currently no structures in place for addressing problems and improving prison conditions.

In November 2012 members of a cross party delegation of Northern Ireland politicians and trade unionists organised by Justice for Colombia, visited La Picota prison. Their comments following the visit are included in the delegation statement.

| top | back | home |
Share |