Venezuela’s newly appointed prison minister has promised sweeping reforms to tackle overcrowding and violence in the country’s penal system.

Iris Varela was appointed to the newly created post of minister of correctional services this week by President Hugo Chavez. Valera, previously a congresswoman for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), will leave her seat in the National Assembly to assume the post. She is known as a staunch supporter of the government and a fierce critic of the opposition.

Valera said that she will take a “humanist” approach and will introduce sports and culture programs to the prison system.

She also stated that one of the first steps she will take will be to reclassify prisoners according to the crimes they have committed. She promised to process prisoners more quickly and to shorten the time it takes to review individual cases in order to ease overcrowding. Valera asserted that, as a consequence of this move, a large percentage of current prisoners would be released. She described them as “victims of the bureaucratic system.”

Chavez has expressed his desire to transform the prison system so that inmates will be released as “changed men and women,” with a better education and understanding of socialism.

The government promised to reform and invest in the penal system in the midst of a violent 27-day uprising in Venezuela’s El Rodeo II prison, close to Caracas, which involved more than 1,000 inmates.

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