Ecuador taking prisoner census after more than 400 prison murders since 2020
Quito, Aug 22 (EFE).- Ecuador on Monday began its first-ever census of its prison population, registering the country’s more than 32,000 inmates housed in 36 prisons, where since 2020 more than 400 of them have been killed in assorted clashes between rival criminal gangs.
The census was launched in the prison in Tulcan, the capital of northern Carchi province, and will take about three months, according to the national prison service (SNAI).
The tally will be made by two teams, one of which will work from the north and the other from the south, and they will join forces in the city of Guayaquil, where the Coastal Prison, the country’s largest, is located and where the bloodiest and most macabre incidents among prisoners occurred last year.
The census process is being coordinated with the national Human Rights Secretariat and has the support of the National Statistics and Census Institute (INEC), the Civil Register, the National Police and the armed forces.
Of the more than 32,000 inmates in Ecuadorian prisons at the end of July, 30,440 were men and 2,065 were women, according to the latest SNAI report, and about 13,000 of them are being held without having been sentenced yet.
According to SNAI, the census will facilitate the updating of socio-demographic information on incarcerated people to improve conditions in the prisons and so that they can be better administered.
At the inaugural ceremony to kick off the census at the Tulcan prison, SNAI director Pablo Ramirez said that the government’s aim is “to create public policies and strategies to transform the quality of life of persons deprived of liberty” by augmenting medical attention and access to specific medical treatments.
Ramirez said that the project is designed to establish “consistent state policies” that create a prison model that incorporates the “principles of human dignity.”
Meanwhile, the government’s human rights secretary, Paola Flores, reiterated the commitment of President Guillermo Lasso to “transform the prison system” so that prisoners have better living conditions.
Specifically, providing more dignified conditions within the prisons was one of the recommendations made by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in its March report on the prison crisis in Ecuador.
In that report, the IHRC also urged the Quito government to regain internal control of the prisons that have fallen under the sway of criminal gangs and to prepare a crime prevention policy where the main strategy is not simply to incarcerate offenders as a dissuasive mechanism.
In that regard, the government in July began hiring 1,400 new prison guards and officials, a move that will almost double the current payroll and thus strengthen vigilance within the prisons, where the latest massacres of inmates have shown the ease with which prisoners are able to get hold of machetes and even assault rifles while they are behind bars.
In addition, a program of pardons and sentence commutations for inmates convicted of minor crimes who have completed the greater portion of their sentences has been launched, along with the preparation of the first national public policy on human rights for the prison population.
This has allowed the government to reduce overcrowding in Ecuador’s prisons from 16.69 percent to 7.74 percent, although there are still certain prisons which house about 50 percent more inmates than they were designed to hold.
However, the massacres of prisoners by rival gangs have not ceased with the latest one – in which 12 convicts were killed – occurring in July at the Santo Domingo de los Tscahilas prison.
Those killings followed another massacre in the same prison in May in which 44 inmates were murdered with the same pattern of cruelty that resulted in bloody heaps of beheaded and dismembered bodies, the identification of which took authorities more than a week to determine.
Human Rights Watch says that the factors explaining this violence include overcrowding, lack of state control within the prisons and the sheer power acquired by criminal groups, according to a report published by HRW in July.