Justice minister seeking OK of loan for prison system

A growing inmate population means Costa Rica’s prison system is now in dire need of an overhaul, including increased employees, more prison cells and upgrades to its infrastructure, according to Hernando París, minister of Justicia y Paz

The Ministerio de Justicia y Paz oversees the country’s prisons through Adaptación Social, one of its agencies.

To facilitate the overhaul of the system París said he is hoping the Asamblea Legislativa will approve a large loan of $132 million from Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo. Part of the money is to build new jail space and invest in other prison programs such as detoxification units and vehicles to allow prison work opportunities. He said he can’t imagine a scenario in which the legislature would not support proper financing of the reform system and said he had the support of President Laura Chinchilla.

Communicados, sent from París to the Ministerio de Hacienda, the government’s fiscal arm, show that París requested additional funds earlier this year. He said he has yet to receive the support he believes the prison system warrants. He spoke at a press conference Monday.

He said the prison system is also lacking guards and is far below proper staffing levels and hopes further monetary support from the central government will help the system shore up staffing shortfalls. Last week guards were unable to prevent a riot in La Reforma in Alajuela which resulted in the murder of two inmates. But a staffing shortage and inadequate facilities not only puts the inmates in danger but also guards, other prison personnel and visitors.

In prison raids last week, conducted with the help of the Fuerza Pública and the Judicial Investigating Organization yielded hundreds of knives, drugs, alcohol, money in cash and cell phones were confiscated. security officials say the illicit telephones are used to orchestrate organized crime within the jail system.

Statistics provided by the the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz said that in the past two years the prison population has grown 30 percent to 10,962 inmates total. In the past 10 years the population has nearly doubled. Including those who are part of the system but not locked away brings the total closer to 21,000.

Overall, París claims the prison system is nearly 30 percent overpopulated with certain facilities listed as being 50 percent overpopulated. Officials attribute the increase in prison population correspondent to the increase in drugs, firearms, and a general spike in most crimes. Since the mid 1990s homicide rate has tripled in the country, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

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