HomeNewsBrief‘No State Presence’ In Bolivia’s Jails: Morales
BRIEF

‘No State Presence’ In Bolivia’s Jails: Morales

BOLIVIA / 2 SEP 2013 BY MIRIAM WELLS EN

Following a prison riot in Bolivia that killed more than 30 people and revelations about the jails’ mini-service economies and extortion rackets, President Evo Morales said the country’s penitentiaries have “no state presence” and vowed to reform the system.

Speaking to regional authorities, Morales admitted jails were under the control of groups of prisoners who charged other inmates when they first entered the facility, for safety once inside, and to secure their release, reported La Razon. Urgent changes were needed, he said, highlighting that 84 percent of prisoners had not even been sentenced and were awaiting trial.

“If 84 percent are in preventative detention, then where is Bolivian justice?” the president asked.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Prisons

La Razon spoke to prisoners at Palmasola jail where at least 34 people died following an attack by inmates from one block against another on August 23. These inmates told the newspaper they were charged by “power groups” to rent cells, move between cellblocks, see visitors and even attend hearings related to their cases. “Entry fees” ranged from $217 if the new inmate had been charged with minor crimes, to $2,500 if they were charged with drug trafficking, sexual abuse, or vehicle theft.

“They want to charge us even to breathe,” said one elderly inmate.

InSight Crime Analysis

The prisoners’ testimony to La Razon reveals how Latin American jails have their own complex economies — and just like in the real world, without money you cannot survive. A host of different “jobs” exist to serve such economies, from the “mobiles” who are paid between 30 and 70 cents to locate a particular prisoner for visitors, to those who sell food or drugs, to those who sit at the top managing the system.

In Bolivia such systems can work in the prisoners’ interests. Prison leaders known as “delegates” are elected to advocate for their fellow inmates. Money is then allocated for infrastructure improvements, health care and legal assistance. This is in contrast to Venezuela, Brazil, and Central America, where powerful prison gangs control all aspects of life on the inside.

However, it’s also clear that criminal extortion exists alongside any democratic “taxation” system, and the fact that prisoners can be forced to pay even to attend hearings or secure their release underscores the reality that Morales has now acknowledged — that the state has completely lost control of its penitentiary system, and urgent reform is needed.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

BOLIVIA / 29 NOV 2012

Despite the fact that Bolivian has seen an uptick in human trafficking in recent years, just two trafficking cases in…

PRISONS / 8 AUG 2012

Over 500 inmates have died in Venezuela's prisons in the year since the government set up the new Prison Ministry,…

BOLIVIA / 2 OCT 2014

Coca growers in Bolivia have expressed support for the government's plan to tax the production of coca leaves, but the…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…