Early release of convicts deplored and defended

The government’s plan to give early release to hundreds of convicts is generating predictable discussion in the legislature.

Antonio Álvarez Desanti of the opposition Partido Liberación Nacional said that the release would expose society to new crimes. He said 1,000 convicts would be released. That number may be low.

Marco Feoli, a vice minister at the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz, said that the prison population was reduced 5 percent in recent weeks by transferring inmates to what are called semi-institutional locations, mainly halfway houses.

The ministry runs the prisons.

The problem is that prisons are overcrowded and various courts have ordered changes to reduce the populations.

The vice minister said that 65 women and 476 men had been transferred to these facilities from prisons all over the country. The individuals who were let out were those who would have completed their prison terms by 2020 anyway and had not been convicted of violent or drug crimes, he said.

In some cases the semi-institutional facilities only require prisoners to stay there one night a week.

As of Sept. 15, there were 13,889 persons in prisons where the capacity totals just 9,130, said Feoli.

This year 2,393 men and 194 women have been authorized to be transferred to these semi-institutional settings from Jan. 1 through Oct. 23. That is a monthly average of 259 persons, Feoli noted.

Between January and September 5,539 newneighbors111015persons have entered the prison system, including 4,456 for preventative detention, he said.

The vice minister said that plans call for constructing more than 2,200 new spaces for prisoners next year.

Expats who have been jailed are unanimous that prison conditions are terrible. In some facilities, inmates have shifts to use the available beds. Crime is rampant.

Costa Rica has had prison problems for a long time. In 2002 the government tried to enlist the U.S. firm of Management & Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah, to build a maximum security facility in Pococi.

The 1,200-bed prison would have cost $72 million and had a  $750,000 monthly maintenance cost.

Then-president Able Pacheco fired José Miguel Villalobos, justice minister at the time, because he opposed the plan. A short time later the Sala IV constitutional court ordered more government involvement in the management of the facility. By 2006 Costa Rican officials had lost interest and said the need for a maximum security facility had declined.

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