What next for Colombia's overcrowded prison service?
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What next for Colombia's overcrowded prison service?

Overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions and poor treatment by prison staff: “there is still a lot to be done” according to a committee from the International Red Cross (ICRC) to preserve the dignity of Colombia’s 121,000 inmates across the country.

An international delegation from the Red Cross added that “the solution to the humanitarian problem in Colombian prisons needs to come from a joint effort.” Daily El Espectador reports.

“There’s still a lot to be done. Nevertheless, I’m sure that the conversation we will have will provide important ideas that we need to keep working on, across our areas of work, to ensure the dignity of those deprived of their freedom,” Christoph Harnisch, Head of the delegation from the ICRC added.

Behind bars

Overcrowding is a problem in 55 percent of Colombian prisons according to the ICRC, active in Colombia since 1969.

“The ICRC is beginning it’s second cycle of work in prisons with the aim of improving conditions in detention centers across the country as much as possible.” Harnisch added.

Yet could there be alternatives to prison time for Colombia’s current inmates?

“When a country has over 120,000 inmates at a rate of 254 percent per every 100,000 inhabitants, which exceeds the global average, one has to ask if there are too many people in prison. There are too many inmates in Colombian prisons, not because they are innocent, but because amongst those incarcerated there will be people whose crime could be treated in a different manner.” Deborah Schibler, a Swiss lawyer on the delegation told El Tiempo.

But even if those guilty of committing more severe crimes such as murder or homicide are locked away, this doesn’t ensure that those outside are any safer, Schibler adds.

“If you capture the person guilty of committing these crimes (homicide), two hours later they will be replaced by other thieves, murderers, they form part of a network. Citizens’ safety isn’t necessarily any better if they (the criminals) are locked away. Colombia needs to improve as a society to prevent crime.”

For the time being, those facing a sentence remain in cramped conditions. As the committee’s work continues, Colombia could hopefully soon provide prisoners with more “dignified” conditions to serve their sentence.

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