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Assembly opens an investigation into Ecuador prison crisis

Published on October 12, 2021

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At least 18 state institutions will have to send information about the prison crisis and citizen security to the Assembly’s Security Commission.

Following the massacre that left 119 dead in the Litoral Penitentiary, the plenary session of the National Assembly resolved that one of its commissions will begin an investigation into the prison crisis in the country.

The decision was made on October 7, 2021, in a session after several authorities appeared before the plenary session on the same issue. The investigation was entrusted to the Assembly’s Sovereignty, Integration and Comprehensive Security Commission, which has already begun to work on it.

The Security Commission also must make a report on the application of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (MNPT) within the prisons of the Social Rehabilitation System.

Last Saturday, October 9th, the Commission chaired by Assemblyman Ramiro Narváez, of the Democratic Left, approved the schedule of activities planned for the investigation. At its meeting, the Commission identified at least 18 state institutions related to the penitentiary system, the prison crisis, and citizen security.

According to a statement from the Assembly, all these institutions will be part of the investigation. However, the Commission will begin the proceedings with four of them, due to their relevance to public security issues. These are:

The Ministry of National Defense

The Ministry of Government

The General Police Command

The technical body of the National Social Rehabilitation System

For its investigation, the Commission will send information requests to the institutions.

Questions for: the Ministry of Defense

According to a statement from the Assembly, the request for information to the Ministry of Defense includes 55 questions.

They are related to various issues, among which stand out are the arms control operations in the different provinces of the country and in the border areas, to the north, south, and east of the country, since 2016.

Information was also requested on the support provided by the Armed Forces for the control of social rehabilitation centers during the state of emergency in prisons. The military can only work within these centers when there is a state of exception, the last one in these centers was decreed by President Guillermo Lasso after the massacre at the Litoral Penitentiary.

In 2020, former president Lenín Moreno decreed a state of exception in prisons, to “control the mafias.” A year earlier, in 2019, Moreno decreed a state of exception in these centers for 90 days, but in that period of time, 14 inmates died violently in clashes.

The Ministry of Government

The statement of the Assembly said that the 60 questions sent to the Ministry of Government closely resemble those that were sent to the Ministry of Defense.

The difference is that they are directed at the work of the National Police and the Ministry of Government to ensure the well-being of citizens and people deprived of liberty who are in the country’s prisons.

In her appearance in the National Assembly on October 7, the Minister of Government, Alexandra Vela, said that the violence in the prisons is due to the “disappearance of the main leaders of the criminal groups.” She also said that “transnational organized crime” is one of the causes of the increase in violence both in the streets and in detention centers.

The General Police Command

The Sovereignty, Integration and Integral Security Commission also sent 60 questions to the General Police Command, which is led by Tannya Varela.

The questions sent to the Command are related to the institution’s participation in arms control operations at the national level and other control operations to ensure the safety of citizens. She also wonders how the Police participate in supporting the maintenance of security in social rehabilitation centers and what have been the results of the “successive declarations of a state of exception in the country’s prisons.”

The SNAI technical body

Finally, the Commission decided to question the technical body of the National Social Rehabilitation System. Unlike the other institutions, this body was sent 89 questions.

The statement of the Assembly said that the questions submitted relate to the level of overcrowding in prisons, the processes of pre-release and prison benefits. There are also questions about the number and names of those deprived of liberty who have died since 2018, including the causes of death.

On October 7, the board of the technical body announced that it will be in permanent session to monitor the prison crisis facing Ecuador. In addition, it resolved to update the regulations of the prison system and deliver a new public policy of the National Social Rehabilitation System by February 2022.

The prison crisis in Ecuador

Since 2017, Ecuador has experienced a prison crisis that, according to experts, has continued to grow every year. In 2018, for example, there were 15 violent deaths within the country’s social rehabilitation centers. In 2019, the number increased to 35 and in 2020, to 51. However, 2021 has been the most violent year in the country’s prisons.

Between January and September alone, more than 230 people deprived of liberty have died violently in prisons. Simultaneous riots in 4 prisons resulted in the death of 79 inmates in February. Months later, in July, violent clashes in the Latacunga Prison and the Litoral Penitentiary resulted in the death of 22 prisoners. And a massacre in the Litoral Penitentiary on September 28th and 29th left at least 119 inmates dead.

According to an expert lawyer in human rights and persons deprived of liberty, Daniela Oña, some of the reasons for the prison crisis in Ecuador are:

  • The lack of prison reform.
  • Lack of staff.
  • Insufficient budget.
  • The reforms of the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code (COIP).
  • The lack of institutionality of the SNAI.
  • The increase in crime in the country.
  • Corruption within prisons.


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