El Salvador’s Ministry of Security has proposed new prison reform legislation to limit extortion and better control prisoner contact with the outside world. Yet lawmakers from various parties say the reforms do not go far enough.
The reform agenda, which was presented to Congress on July 23, centers on limiting prisoner visitation rights, reported La Prensa Grafica. The move is designed to curb extortion and limit the flow of illegal contraband in and out of the prisons.
While lawmakers have responded favorably to the proposed changes as standalone measures, members of Congress from various parties have said that the reform package fails to address the full range of concerns affecting El Salvador’s prisons.
As they stand now, the proposed reforms involve reducing the number of visitors an inmate is allowed to register from ten to five. Once those five visitors are selected — who must all be related to the inmate — they cannot be changed for a full year.
Inmates are currently allowed to register anyone as a visitor, regardless of family relation, and they are able to swap out or substitute names on their visitors’ list at will. Under the new rules, conjugal visits would also be curtailed.
The push to reform the penal code comes a week after President Sanchez Ceren’s administration launched a new security strategy. One of the five principal goals of the security plan, dubbed “Secure El Salvador,” (pdf) is to limit the influence of criminal gangs in the prison system, while also addressing issues of inmate rehabilitation and reinsertion.
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El Salvador’s current penal code dates back to 1997, so it may well be time to improve and update the legislation. While any step towards tightening controls over El Salvador’s prison system is a positive development, lawmakers have a point in arguing that the current proposal is somewhat misguided. Limiting the number of visitors that inmates are allowed won’t be enough to stop extortion and contraband if prison authorities remain corrupt and under-trained.
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And while the issue of inmate rights is unlikely to rise to the top of the government’s political agenda anytime soon, there is nevertheless something that seems retaliatory about the timing of these proposed reforms, given El Salvador’s current security context. Increased inmate rights was part of the deal that gang leaders received during their now-defunct truce with the government. After the truce fell apart, government reversed these concessions first by transferring gang leaders back into high-security prisons. Now, it seems as though more limited visitation rights may follow.
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