The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced concern on Tuesday over the increasing trend in violence within Venezuela’s prisons. The office called for an investigation into a clash between inmates and National Guard troops at Uribana prison in Barquisimeto last Friday that left 61 inmates dead and 120 injured. OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville attributed the violence to poor prison conditions including overcrowding, lack of basic services and widespread access to firearms that were “exacerbated by judicial delays and excessive resort to pre-trial detention.”
One of the contributing factors to this overcrowding is the number of pretrial detainees. In an article published yesterday in the Winter 2013 issue of Americas Quarterly, Richard Aborn notes that in the Americas, “pretrial detention is being employed at rates two to five times greater than the international average.” In addition to contributing to the overcrowding in prisons throughout the Americas, pretrial detention exposes prisoners who have not been convicted of a crime to violence, sexual assault, and even torture. Venezuela ranks seventh in the Americas in the number of pretrial detentions, with an average of 29,000 individuals detained at any given time.
Colville expressed that states are responsible for ensuring that “conditions of detention are compatible with the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Addressing the state’s role in mitigating violence, Aborn recommends that they accelerate the process to bring the accused to trial, plan for reintegration of prisoners into society early and improve the conditions of confinement by physically expanding prisons to reduce overcrowding—action items which would help detention-prone nations like Venezuela move closer to meeting international human rights standards.