In an apparent protest of Venezuela’s shoddy prison conditions and drawn-out judicial processes, at least 950 people have occupied a northern prison where their relatives are being held, demanding that the government provide them with a faster trial.
In a press conference yesterday, Iris Varela, head of the country’s recently-created Ministry of Correctional Services, told local press that the individuals invaded the Yare I and II prison complex, located 40 miles southwest of Caracas, over the previous weekend. According to the minister, the group is comprised of "800 women, wives and mothers of the inmates, 150 children and teenagers, and five men.”
Varela claims that the group is remaining in the Yare prison of its own will, as part of an attempt to speed the judicial processes against those being held there. The director of prison rights group A Window to Liberty has contradicted this, saying that only some of the relatives are there voluntarily, and that the rest are being held hostage.
Officials are negotiating with the relatives over the situation, and Varela has pledged to resolve the conflict peacefully.
InSight Crime Analysis
This is far from the first prison standoff that Venezuela has seen in recent months.
On July 13, a 27-day confrontation between armed inmates and security forces at the El Rodeo prison just east of Caracas finally came to an end after 25 people were killed. In October, inmates at another prison in the north of the country took 60 hostages in order to pressure authorities into transferring a powerful crime boss to another facility. These incidents are fairly common in the country’s prisons, which are largely understaffed. As such, they are almost exclusively controlled at least in part by prison gangs, who frequently clash with their guards.
On top of this, Venezuelan prisons are notoriously overcrowded. According to official figures, Venezuelan prison facilities are meant to hold only 14,000 inmates, despite the fact that they currently hold 50,000.
The Chavez administration has vowed to improve prison conditions, even suspending imprisonment temporarily in August. Still, progress is slow, as these incidents illustrate.