Venezuelan Prison Humanization Program Initiates New Educational Project
University professors and experts in corrections and rehabilitation will offer educational programs for both the staff and prisoners in Venezuela’s jails as part of the latest step forward in the country’s four year-old prison humanization program.
The Venezuelan Ministry for Internal Affairs and Justice signed an inter-institutional cooperation accord with the National Experimental Polytechnical University of the Armed Forces (UNEFA) this week to provide vocational training, including cooperative business management, to the nation’s prisoners as well as training in human rights for prison personnel.
UNEFA Rector Wilmer Omar Barrientos and Justice Minister Tarek El-Aissami publicly signed the agreement, accompanied by Vice Minister for University Education Edgardo Ramirez, Merida Governor Marcos Diaz, and National Director of Penitentiaries Consuelo Cerrada Mendez.
In addition to signing the agreement, El-Aissami attended a certificate granting ceremony for 48 graduates of a professional training course called “Professional Perfection in the Penitentiary System.”
The 213-hour course included the philosophy and sociology of jails, laws governing public functionaries in jails, theory and practice of penitentiary management, conflict resolution, and human rights. Among the students were 18 lawyers, 12 psychologists, eight criminologists, nine social workers, and a doctor who work in the Venezuelan prison system.
The Chavez government inherited a notoriously violent, unkempt, and corrupt prison system. The government carried out a comprehensive study of the problems in the system in 2005, and activated its prison humanization program in 2006.
This program brought better food, education, and health care services to prisoners and initiated the construction of 15 new jails with expanded recreation, health care, and educational facilities, including gardens.
In 2007, the Justice Ministry launched a joint project with the National System of Youth Orchestras of Venezuela to form orchestras in five jails in which 918 prisoners currently play.
In mid-2008, prison authorities conducted 65 weapons searches and seized 477 firearms, 985 hand-made firearms, 38 grenades, and thousands of bullets and other projectiles that were in the hands of prisoners, according to ABN. It also formed 24 new teams of experts to conduct psychological evaluations of prisoners and to provide treatment.
The government credits these efforts with the reduction of violent prisoner deaths from 498 in 2007 to 366 in 2009, even as the prison population rose from 21,171 to 32,624 during that time, as the government stepped up its security measures to confront a growing homicide rate.
However, the historic problems in the prison system persist. Each year, hundreds of prisoners and their family members outside of the jails go on hunger strike or stage “self-kidnappings” and other forms of protest to call for improved services, jail conditions, and the acceleration of prisoners’ trials, which are sometimes delayed for two or three years.
On Tuesday, El-Aissami praised the government’s achievements but said there is much progress to be made to fully humanize the prison system. “We continue to advance. We acknowledge that we still have a lot to do in the area of penitentiaries, but to affirm that this revolutionary government has not contributed to the transformation of the system is a lie,” said the minister.
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