HomeNewsBriefVenezuela Prisons: Organized Crime Control Centers
BRIEF

Venezuela Prisons: Organized Crime Control Centers

PRISONS / 25 JUN 2018 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

For seven years under the same prison minister, organized crime groups have turned Venezuela's prisons into their own control centers. But rather than combat them, the Maduro administration has allowed their activities to expand and has renewed the questionable minister’s term.

According to a recent report by the Venezuelan Prison Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones – OVP), systemic problems continue to plague the country’s prison system. The problems include processing delays, overcrowding, deteriorating buildings, failure to classify inmates, lack of basic vital services, and inmate possession and trafficking of weapons and drugs.

“What we’re seeing right now is a completely disastrous situation,” OVP Director Humberto Prado said in an interview with Unión Radio. “We have one of the worst prison systems in the region.”

SEE ALSO: Special Investigation – Venezuela: A Mafia State?

Prado says the problems that developed in the prisons have spread to police station holding cells, which are packed with 32,000 prisoners at a 400 percent overcrowding rate. And the strengthening of organized criminal groups within the prisons known as “pranatos” as a form of government is compounding the issue because their dominance over criminal activities has spread from inside the prisons to the outside.

InSight Crime Analysis

Overcrowding in Venezuela’s prisons and pretrial detention centers is currently at 161 percent, and the nationwide prison population has reached 57,096, contributing factors to anarchy and lack of government control. These circumstances have favored and fueled the pranato criminal structure, which has spread into the country’s police stations and mining zones.

Despite the government’s plans in 2013 to implement new prison reforms featuring a “humanist” approach, the “pranes,” or pranato leaders, continue to control and carry out criminal activities from inside Venezuelan prisons. The extent of the pranes’ power was recently revealed in Tocorón prison, which is controlled by pran Héctor Guerrero, alias “El Niño.” Guerrero may be behind the murder of a teenage girl at the hands of Tocorón prisoners after her family refused to pay extortion fees.

SEE ALSO: Special Investigation – The Prison Dilemma in the Americas

Tocorón is the clearest illustration of the pranato [phenomenon] in Venezuela. If pranatos can act with total freedom anywhere, it’s Tocorón. [Prison] Minister Iris Varela has been saying for over a year that she’s going to close that prison, and she still hasn’t done it,” said Carlos Nieto Palma, head of A Window to Liberty (Una Ventana a la Libertad), a watchdog organization focusing on prisons.

“There are mafias running the prison quotas who pay the pranes so they can transfer people to [Tocorón]. El Niño controls absolutely everything,” he said.

Moreover, the pranes running Tocorón have gyms, pools, a zoo, restaurants and grocery stores where they can get food that cannot even be found on the shelves of supermarkets outside the prison due to Venezuela’s economic crisis.

Nieto also alleges that pranato activities are supported by the Prison Service Ministry.

“They’re strong allies. The pranes exist in Venezuela because the ministry has allowed it,” he said.

But despite such problematic circumstances, in 2018, President Nicolás Maduro reinstated Iris Varela as prison minister after the National Constituent Assembly managed to remove her for five months. Varela is one of Maduro’s closest collaborators and has headed up the Prison Service Ministry since its creation in 2011, with no improvements in Venezuela’s prison system to date.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

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.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 7 MAY 2015

Authorities in Venezuela have discovered two clandestine graves near the border with Colombia, raising the possibility that violence between warring…

VENEZUELA / 8 AUG 2012

Venezuelan drug lord Walid Makled claims to have damning evidence of the military and government elite's ties to the drug…

CONTRABAND / 5 AUG 2013

The Venezuelan government plans to create a new force tasked with patrolling the border with Colombia, which will face an…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…