Thanks to judge’s ruling, the streets are now meaner

There is a scene in the movie “Ghostbusters” where the evil energy peaks to the extent that spooks are swirling around New York like so many wind-driven newspaper pages.

That may be the situation soon in Costa Rica except the ghosts will be very solid robbers and other crooks.

The Ministerio de Justicia y Paz is under court order to reduce the prison population, which now is more than 13,000, about 4,000 higher than what is considered capacity.

Naturally many of these convicted criminals will return to their old ways upon release.

An example is a man with the last name of Calderón, who is the main suspect in a robbery that took place about 9 p.m. Sunday in Parque Central in San José.

According to the Judicial Investigating Organization until Oct. 23, Calderón resided at the Centro Penitenciario La Reforma in Alajuela. He had been jailed for six months on an attempted robbery conviction and three years and four months after a conviction for aggravated robbery.

However, he was given the benefit of conditional execution of the sentences as long as he agreed to sleep one night a week at a halfway house in Guadalupe, said the agency. That is where agents detained him late Wednesday afternoon.

Agents allege that he applied a neck hold on a victim identified by the last name of James so as to allow the assailant to take a billfold and a cell telephone.

Someone else saw the robbery and gave chase unsuccessfully. In his haste to get away, the robber dropped what turned out to be acédula, an identification card belonging to Calderón.

The suspect exemplified the situation as officials try to reduce the number of those detained.

The Sala IV rejected as unconstitutional 12 years ago a proposal from a U.S. firm to build a high-security prison as a concession. Now officials are hurrying to find funding to build more facilities.

In the meantime, they are releasing hundreds of convicted felons onto the streets.

Costa Rica’s low rate of solving crimes is well-known, and usually a crook has to make a dumb mistake like Calderón to end up in jail.

Only last September, the minister of Justicia, Ana Garita, asked judges to provide other pre-trial mechanisms instead of pre-trial detention. Lawmakers still were considering a measure that would allow the use of electronic bracelets that would be monitored remotely. But that project has been stalled temporarily.

Costa Rican prosecutors almost always seek pre-trial detention for foreign suspects for fear they will leave the county. Some say this device is over used, particularly when someone who has spent 13 months in prison is eventually acquitted.

The same day that Calderón was released, prison officials moved more than 90 inmates from the San Sebastián facility to reduce overcrowding there.

Far worse than the Calderón case is one in Puntarenas where a recently released convict is a murder suspect. The suspect was placed on the street from the El Roble prison three days before the Saturday stickup and murder of a shopkeeper. He was one of 370 prisoners ordered released by a judge and placed in what is known as a régimen de confianza, which might include sleeping nights in confinement. He had been charged with aggravated robbery but served about 15 months of a three-year, four-month sentence.

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