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Instead of rehabilitation centers Penitentiary Commission finds a corrupted prison system

Published on July 11, 2022

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The Penitentiary Dialogue Commission finished its work, made recommendations and left the task of pacifying the prisons to the SNAI.

“We do not have rehabilitation centers, but rather prisons that become true schools of crime.”

That is one of the main conclusions of the final report that the Commission for Penitentiary Dialogue and Pacification in Ecuadorian prisons presented after six months of work, from December 16th, 2021, to June 16, 2022.

After visiting, touring and conducting interviews with prisoners and criminal leaders in 12 prisons in the country, the document that contains more than 70 pages proposes — like other investigations on the prison reality — an X-ray of the rehabilitation system in the country.

From violations of the human rights of persons deprived of their liberty —which according to the Constitution are a priority attention group— to the high level of criminal governance inside the pavilions, the Commission unravels a diagnosis, while outlining recommendations and conclusions. The objective, says the Commission, is to reduce the violence, which, between 2021 and 2022, has already seen more than four hundred people murdered and dozens of families left without answers for their deaths.

What were the main findings of the Commission?

The Commission determined that prison violence has several causes, such as the violence of organizations and their leaders, which dominate pavilions and detention centers, and which produce blackmail by threats against his life.

But there is also “the silent and systematic violence on the part of the State, the abandonment of basic care for people deprived of liberty in detention centers,” the report details.

They detected human rights violations, such as overcrowding, lack of access to legal advice and prison benefits, separation from the prison population, access to basic services, wastewater treatment, and even medical attention.

The commissioners detected that corruption is attached to the current system in which “persons deprived of liberty, police, SNAI and the penitentiary judicial system are found. A structure has been formed that favors corruption.”

That is to say, “which ranges from bribes to enter objects necessary for people deprived of liberty, to arms and drug trafficking.”

“Administrators, SNAI, prison officers, military, police, prosecutors, judges, among others, who benefit from organized crime inside and outside prisons, must be identified.” – Penitentiary Dialogue and Pacification Commission

The group of commissioners confronted eight “experiences,” which show the breaks in the prison system:

  • “Punishment warehouses.” The Commission concluded that the places where people are detained “are not rehabilitation centers, but punishment warehouses.” The members say that, in addition, they are “schools of criminal tactics.” They describe it this way because, they maintain, they do not offer “basic guarantees of rehabilitation and social reintegration.”
  • Violence against prisoners. Based on investigations by civil society organizations, says the Commission, they believe that there is structural violence against prisoners. They describe it as a “structural violence of omission” that does not guarantee basic rights such as access to medical and educational services, family reunification, rehabilitation, empowerment, social reintegration, among others, which were “annulled” by the system.

Added to this violence is personal and interpersonal violence, also caused by high levels of overcrowding. In Ecuador, there are prisons with over 120% overcrowding, as is the case in the Los Ríos prison or in El Rodeo, where there is not enough supply of drinking water or treatment of wastewater. Therefore, the commissioners say, intervention against violence from a multidimensional approach is key.

“The greatest intervention continues to be the culture of peace with justice,” they say.

The Commission says that one of the most serious faults in prisons is the lack of health care, which is not available in “almost all centers.” They pointed out a lack of properly equipped dispensaries, or medicines and medical supplies. The Commission says that it is so serious that they can say that “many people have died in prison due to lack of medical care.”

The same goes for patients with mental and psychological illnesses. “There is no policy to treat addictions, nor to treat the elderly. The lack of dental care is serious,” it reports.

  • Lack of institutionality. The Commission believes that the most important step is one that General Pablo Ramírez, director of the National Service for Comprehensive Care for Adults Deprived of Liberty and Adolescent Offenders, has already announced: a School for Penitentiary Agents. More than once, agents have informed the press of their precarious working conditions where that are threatened by mafias, without security guarantees, while working for paltry salaries.
    The Commission says that it is important to ensure the education, training, professionalization, updating and permanent evaluation of prison staff. And learning, it says, must be accompanied by leadership skills and “unrestricted respect for human rights.” That, they say, is the best way to “combat corruption and human rights violations.”
  • Prisons as juvenile retention centers. The Commission concluded that 75% of the prison population is young: their ages ranging between 18 and 25 years. The members say that a socioeconomic analysis would show that they are impoverished or working-class people. “Has direct discrimination been declared against young and poor people?” they question. They also explain, for example, that women, people of African descent, LGBTIQ+, older adults and migrants are even more vulnerable in prisons. “A prevention link must be incorporated that allows and individual to reach an achievable ideal that avoids incarceration.”
  • Prison census. This issue was unanimous for the Commission: the members think that the prison census — which according to the government has already begun — should be finalized. They say that there are no excuses for not having a computerized system that makes it possible to know who the prisoner is, what prison they are in, what their crime is, what their sentence is, their physical and emotional health condition, their time in prison, their literacy level, and their level of education. The reality in the prisons is different: the registry of the prisoners is so precarious that in several of the massacres in Ecuador, inmates had to write the name of their murdered companions on a list.
  • Social reintegration as debt. It is not a secret that inmates face enormous obstacles when they leave prison. Stigmatization and lack of opportunities are two of them. For this reason, the Commission posed two questions that should be asked: “What are we doing to prepare them? And what are we doing so that society receives them without punishing them?” An effective reintegration process, they say, implies “substantial and conscious changes in lifestyle that are complicated and difficult” both for those who finish their sentence and for those who access the semi-open regime or pre-release.Many of the people released cannot have a formal job due to their criminal record. The Commission suggests that the government could allocate funds for financial measures that promote educational, health, childcare, legal aid and job training programs for former inmates. In this way, they would be prevented from resorting to illicit economies out of necessity.
  • Criminal intelligence and police intelligence. Academic studies and testimonies of prisoners and administrative staff agree on the shortcomings of the intelligence systems in the prisons. In each one of the prison massacres —there are six of them— there were alerts before they occurred. But none of the nearly four hundred deaths were prevented. “Why with more police and more police intelligence are there more massacres? Or why does criminal intelligence begin to function after the massacres,” questions the Commission. Its conclusion is concrete: corruption.
  • Prevention as an alternative to incarceration. The Commission says that crime is multi-causal and the absence of prevention policies, and an inter-institutional approach do not allow the creation of prevention plans to avoid imprisonment. For this reason, the members recommend adopting an “integrated action plan” for the prevention of a crime, including hate crimes. They propose, for example, summer programs, mentoring, mediation programs, conflict resolution, interventions that involve the community, including the national police and educational centers.

They also argue that crime prevention could be divided into three categories: community, situational, and development- or risk-focused crime prevention. And they exemplify it: in several of the police departments of the United States there is the Police Athletic League. They are spaces where police officers train young people in sports or help them with tasks or activities related to learning. “The purpose is to build character, help strengthen police-community relations, and keep children away from illegal drugs,” they write.

Commission proposals

After its report on the situation of prisons in the country, the Commission presented a series of proposals focused on three axes:

Prevention

  • Urge the Executive to develop crime prevention policies based on research that determines patterns and social determinants, georeferenced on the propensity to commit crimes.
  • Urge the Judiciary to apply alternative measures to preventive detention.  Prepare proposals for reforms to the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code (COIP) aimed at avoiding overcrowding.
  • Advise the government in strengthening and targeting state actions from the areas of education, productivity and economic and social inclusion in places with the highest incidence of crime.
  • Advise the Executive in strengthening intervention in addiction prevention at the national level and mental health care.
  • Generate a national public policy on crime prevention and citizen security.
  • Joint work between the government and the Decentralized Autonomous Governments for the inclusion of children and adolescents in projects and programs that develop the potential of each of them.

Attention 

  • Urge the competent national and local entities to comply with national regulations and current international instruments: compliance with rights, separation from the prison population, access to basic services, prison benefits, among others.
  • Prisoners do not have access to basic human rights: water, electricity, bathrooms in good condition, or access to medicine. This needs to be remedied.
  • There should be staff with extensive training in first aid, mediation, conflict resolution. The Commission says that when persons deprived of liberty find themselves in a tense environment, there needs to be trained personnel who know how to handle the situation.
  • Urge the Executive to deliver resources to guarantee sufficient personnel in the intervention developed in the axes of treatment, security and improvement of infrastructure. Strengthen water pumps, pipe maintenance —there are complaints about the presence of rats in the pipes, says the Commission— and other actions to ensure that human rights and equality approaches are applied.
  • Urge the governing body to prioritize differentiated care for adolescents in conflict with the law, women and the LGBTIQ+ population, older adults, people with disabilities, people with catastrophic illnesses, and others.
  • Urge the SNAI to immediately begin a process of technological reform in which persons deprived of liberty can have their penitentiary benefits files virtually, and that their families can observe them, generating less displacement to an institution that is centralized.
  • To exhort the permanent presence of the institutions that make up the Technical Rehabilitation Organism, developing treatment axes within the framework of their competences.
  • Follow up on compliance with the recommendations made by the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture and international organizations on the matter.
  • Advise on the preparation of intervention and rehabilitation plans appropriate to the reality of each center.
  • Accompany and advise within the framework of their powers in the investigations of violent acts that occurred in the context of deprivation of liberty and the application of the law.
  • Urge the application of alternative conflict resolution mechanisms.
  • Urge the Executive to create a policy to accompany the process of inclusion in society of persons deprived of liberty, as soon as they leave the centers —whether for prison benefits or serving sentences—, so they avoid recurrence.

Repair 

  • The families of the victims of prison massacres, says the Commission, must receive urgent psychosocial care.
  • Provide psychosocial care to prisoners who witnessed episodes of violence.
  • Generation of actions that guarantee access to education for sons and daughters of prisoners who could not be recognized in the Civil Registry.

Which prisons were visited? 

  • The commissioners toured 12 prisons in different areas of the country:
  • Penitentiary of the Coast of Guayaquil
  • Transitional area, in the prison of Guayaquil 2
  • Guayaquil Regional Prison
  • Consulting pavilion of Guayaquil
  • Guayaquil Women’s Prison
  • El Inca prison in Quito
  • Latacunga prison, in Cotopaxi
  • Turi prison, in Cuenca
  • Esmeraldas Prison 2
  • El Rodeo prison, in Portoviejo, in Manabí
  • Jipijapa prison, in Manabí
  • Santo Domingo Prison, in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas

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