Freeing convicts called bad for tourism

The central government’s plan to liberate 380 felony convicts to free up prison space is drawing fire.

The Cámara Nacional de Turismo and the Cámara Costarricense de Hoteles have both jointly expressed their concern that the plan will have a negative impact on the image the country has built for foreign tourists.

The plan comes from a directive by the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz, which runs the prisons.

The two chambers said they recognize that the conditions inside the prisons are not consistent with human rights, but they said the politics of the decision put the rights of prisoners over those of citizens.

Gustavo Araya, president of the Cámara Costarricense de Hoteles, said in the statement that the judicial order that caused the directive had also brought an advisory to travelers from the U.S. Department of State. He said perception is important and that the perception is an increase in insecurity.

At the legislature Tuesday, Otto Guevara of the Movimiento Libertario suggested that the central government reactivate the prison facility on the Isla de San Lucas in the Gulf of Nicoya. The prison was shut down in 1991.

The justice ministry quickly issued a statement citing reasons why this would not work.

Among them was that the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights has said that isolating and segregating prisoners is a violation of their rights and can generate serious health problems.

It also noted that shipping prisoners to the island also means sending guards, support staff and their families there.

It noted that the United States closed Alcatraz in part because of the maintenance costs.

Statistics show that a criminal suspect stands just a one in 20 chance of actually going to prison. Among other reasons is that country’s conciliation process whereby offenders can buy their way out of jail.

The justice ministry plans to use halfway houses as part of the plan to set the convicts free. Law enforcement also opposes the plan.

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