HomeNewsBriefVenezuela’s Prison Bosses Become Trusted Supplier of Basic Needs
BRIEF

Venezuela's Prison Bosses Become Trusted Supplier of Basic Needs

COVID AND CRIME / 16 DEC 2020 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

Several inmates at a Venezuela prison scaled a wall to escape to a part of the complex where prison bosses wield greater control, in an attempt their family members say to access food.

A shootout that ensued during the November 10 breakout at the Yare prison complex left one prisoner dead, another wounded and two guards injured, El Universal reported. Of the eight inmates who jumped the prison wall, five successfully crossed from Yare II complex to Yare I, according to a news release by prisoners’ rights non-governmental organization Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window to Liberty).

Although the exact details of the incident remain unclear, the Venezuelan Prison Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones – OVP) reported that the inmates made a break for the other complex because of a lack of food, according to family members who spoke to the organization.

SEE ALSO: Deaths Inside Venezuelan Prisons Doubled During Pandemic

"They weren't planning to escape from the jail, they wanted to jump from the regime penitentiary to the open one because they were hungry, and they weren't giving them food," OVP reported.

Yare prison in the central coastal state of Miranda consists of two complexes. Yare II --designed to increase security under prison reform after several deadly riots between 2011 and 2013 -- is under government control. Yare I is an “open prison” where prison bosses, known as "pranes," rule.

A family member of a prisoner in Yare II who spoke to InSight Crime said that most prisoners there receive only one or two meals per day that do not provide sufficient sustenance.

“Every time you visit, they are thinner,” the relative said.

InSight Crime Analysis

Prison bosses being better able to adapt to pandemic shortages than the Venezuelan government should come as no surprise, given that they have long overseen life behind prison walls.

Prisoners' rights advocates raised the alarm about a lack of food in the country's prisons since the government barred visits by family members to avoid the virus' spread. The vast majority of prisoners in Venezuela depend on their loved ones for essentials.

Family members are now allowed to visit once or twice per month, but prison guards have been known to pilfer the little food they can afford to deliver.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela Prison Implodes Under Additional Strain From Coronavirus

Prison bosses, meanwhile, have facilitated more frequent visits. They also are adept at sourcing contraband and then selling those goods to prisoners at inflated prices.

“In the prisons controlled by pranes, there is less scarcity,” Beatriz Carolina Girón, the director of OVP, told InSight Crime.

Prisoners’ desperation to escape Yare II speaks to how the failure to provide sufficient resources to inmates has directly strengthened gang bosses by making them the sole reliable provider of resources, including food.

Pranes have been able to do this with the consent -- and sometimes support -- of the Venezuelan government. Iris Varela, who served as prisons minister from 2011 to 2020, played a critical role in the so-called reform of Venezuela's prisons. Despite her reported ties to various gang members, she has claimed that these criminal structures do not exist, and she often refers to them as “negative leaders” rather than prison bosses.

Drug, prostitution and gambling rings, however, have long thrived behind prison walls under their auspices. Tocorón prison, the stronghold of the Tren de Aragua megabanda, is infamous for its luxuries, such as a swimming pool, a nightclub, restaurants and even a small zoo.

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