Colombian prisoners on hunger strike over overcrowding crisis

Prisoners all over Colombia have gone on hunger strike to protest pervasive overcrowding and unbearable conditions. Calls for the resignation of the director of the country’s prison authority rose on Thursday.

“Everyone is rioting and on a hunger strike. We are not accepting any type of alimentation,” inmates from Bogota’s La Picota prison and from the Combita prison in the central Boyaca department told newspaper El Tiempo.

“Conditions are horrific,” a source told Colombia Reports. “People have been incarcerated way past their sentences.”

A wave of prisoner protests began following initial movements by inmates in Bogota’s “Buen Pastor” and “La Modelo” prisons, enraged by overcrowding, increasingly poor conditions and inadequate access to basic life resources such as healthcare and water.

The leaders of the movement are proposing to create a commission comprised of nine to 13 inmates from various prisons around the country to push forward initiatives to improve conditions. Included in their proposals is to cut the sentences of all prisoners by up to half and forbidding judges from doling out sentences over 25 years.

They are also asking that no Colombian be extradited to foreign authorities and that the Commission of Women for Peace be allowed to enter into various jails throughout the country.

The most complex situation that has arisen is in Bogota’s La Picota prison where prisoners have refused to let themselves be counted since midnight on Wednesday.

“We are not permitting that they lock us in cells nor count us. There are senior citizens and we have no health services provided by any state entity,” inmates said. The interviewed inmates also claimed they had no access to public telephones or water.

Spokesmen that asked to remain unnamed said prisoners were protesting in the Palogordo Giron prisons in the central Santander department and in Valledupar in the northeastern Cesar department. Members of an association of prisoners in both regions have released a document citing eight points they wish to discuss with senior members of the government.

According to Senator Carlos Fernando Motoa, the director of the National Prison and Penitentiary Institute (INPEC), General Adolfo Ricaurte, has failed to attend growing unrest and deteriorating human rights situations in Colombia’s prisons and should resign.

“I formally ask for the resignation of the Inpec director, because he did not see the crisis, did not report about it and did not see this [situation] coming, it is the gravest this country has seen in recent history,” the senator told radio station Caracol.

Colombia’s prisons are considered overcrowded by international standards. For example, in August this year, Medellin’s Ombudsman said the local Bellavista prison, which was built for some 2,400 inmates, had a prison population of over 7,700.


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