In May 2015, the OVP counted 49,644 people deprived of their liberty (46,883 men and 2,761 women). 63.4% of the prison population is in pre-trial detention. There is no separation between the untried prisoners and the convicted.
The overall occupancy rate is up to 290%. The prison population is unequally distributed at the national level: it is estimated that the occupation rate of the Tocuyito prison (Valencia) is 232% and that of the San Antonio prison (Margarita) is 373%.
From its inception in 2012 until today, the MPPSP has closed five correctional facilities. The prison population has been moved to different sites, further exacerbating the overcrowding problem.
Three thousand inmates were transferred to the Tocorón prison (Maracay) in August 2016. With an effective capacity of 750 spaces and around 10,000 inmates, Tocorón has an occupation rate of 1,500%. The OVP states that the order to move the inmates was given by the pran (the leader of the armed gang that controls the compound) with the intention of increasing the profits extracted from the taxes paid by inmates1.
The Ombudsman, Tarek William Saab, said that as of September 2016 some 33,000 people were being held in the cells of police stations. With a capacity to accommodate 5,000 people, the national occupancy rate in police stations is at 660%2. The overcrowding prevents the separation of men, women and children. The OVP reports cases in which prisoners have spent up to two years in a police cell awaiting their trial or even serving their sentence3.
According to the OVP, responsibility for providing the prisoners with the necessary, day-to-day items for their time in detention was assigned to the security forces. In order for a person to be transferred to a prison, the police unit where he or she is detained or the inmate’s family must grant or provide a “transfer kit” (mattress, uniforms, sanitary items, etc.) that costs approximately five times the minimum wage. This is one of the causes of the high overcrowding rates in the police stations.
By contrast, in prisons where the New Prison Regime is in effect, prisoners abide by the rules of the staff. In order to identify the different categories of inmates, they are assigned uniforms of different colours: the untried prisoners have blue and the convicted prisoners have yellow. Women wear fuchsia, regardless of the status of their case. However, no one is separated according to the seriousness of the crime committed.
The female prison population represents 5.5% of the total prison population. The untried prisoners are not separated from those convicted in any prison.
The majority of the female prison population (2,119 women) is distributed among annexes located in fifteen male prison facilities.
The prisons in the states of Zulia and Bolívar do not have annexes for women. Female prisoners serve their sentences in police stations and share cells with men.
The annexes do not have recreational areas or designated medical personnel.
Marianela Sánchez, from the OVP, recounted the case of a woman held in the David Viloria annex of the Uribana prison. She suffered chronic skin infections during her four years of imprisonment because the water provided was contaminated1.
The National Institute for Female Correctional Services (Instituto Nacional de Orientación Femenina, INOF), the country’s only women’s prison, has 642 inmates, of whom 48 are foreigners. With a capacity of 250 people, the occupancy rate is 256.8%. The OVP notes "a serious situation of overcrowding [in which] 6 to 7 inmates are forced to share an individual cell of 2x3 metres", and states that some must sleep on the floor or on newspaper. Blackwater leaks have been reported inside the cells due to the poor state of the plumbing. Access to filtered water is limited, and inmates are forced to buy bottled water sold at a price three times higher than the market price.
The INOF has lower rates of violence and better living conditions than most of the prisons. However, the OVP reports cases in which staff force inmates to have sex in exchange for protection.
The OVP reports that the female prison population does not have basic necessities such as soap or sanitary napkins.
Female inmates do not have the right to conjugal visits. The prison administration claims the need to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies as its reason.
Pregnant inmates give birth in a hospital. However, problems are reported during transfers. A woman detained at the Los Teques police station in Caracas, in full labour, went to five hospitals over more than 24 hours because none of them had the staff or equipment to treat her2.
A minor can stay in a prison with his or her mother up to the age of four.
The OVP counted between 18 and 20 children living in the INOF as of May 2016. The centre has a nursery but does not offer adequate medical or psychological care.
According to the Ombudsman, 2,052 minors were detained as of June 2015 (92.2% boys and 7.8% girls).
The New Prison Regime is in effect in the country’s 31 juvenile detention centres. Management of the institutions is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health or the municipalities.
The Organic Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents (LOPNA) was amended in 2014: the maximum penalty for a minor was increased from five to ten years.
According to the criminologist Fermín Mármol García, 60% of crimes registered at the national level are perpetrated by minors, with drug trafficking, armed robbery and homicides being the most common1.
Juvenile detention centres register high levels of violence. Prison escapes, riots and clashes are common nationwide.
A.B.S., a 17-year-old boy incarcerated for stealing a cell phone, was killed and dismembered by his fellow inmates in November 2014 at General José Francisco Bermúdez Socio-Educational Unit in Monagas. His mother told the press that her son had been killed because of his religious convictions and because he did not want to get involved with the gangs at the prison2.
Thirty-three children escaped from the Los Cocos detention centre on Margarita Island on 12 April 2015. Eight were captured hours later. Relatives have reported the overcrowding and physical abuse to which the young people are subjected. A similar situation occurred in April 2014 at the same institution: a riot was followed by the escape of ten inmates3.
The Miranda Child and Adolescent Protection Service (SEPINAMI) reported a riot on 18 January 2015 after the guards reduced visiting times to half an hour. The decision was made after finding a large number of cell phones during a search. In protest, the young men burned 30 mattresses and opened a hole to escape. There were no deaths or injuries4.
Young people from the Dr. Jesús María Rengel Socio-Educational Unit in Monagas State took control of the prison for several days. The 12 employees had to leave the compound because their lives were at risk5.
The number of political prisoners has increased considerably in recent years. According to the NGO Venezuelan Penal Forum (Foro Penal Venezolano), there were a dozen in 2012. By March 2017, the organisation had counted 11512.
Political prisoners who receive a lot of media attention are being held in Ramo Verde military prison for their protection.
"La Tumba", an underground detention centre located at the headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) near Plaza Venezuela (Caracas), has been denounced by the NGO Justice and Due Process (Justicia y Proceso) for using “white torture” methods on political prisoners so that they plead guilty to crimes they have not committed. Cells measure 2x3 square metres and have cement beds, white walls and security cameras. Interaction between inmates is restricted, and a white light is kept on 24 hours a day. The cells are kept at a temperature of 0°C.
Rodolfo González, detained at SEBIN headquarters since April 2014, committed suicide on 13 March 2015 after being informed that he would be transferred to Yare II prison, known for its high levels of violence3.
On 2 March 2015, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to Lorent Saleh and Gerardo Carrero, both held at SEBIN headquarters, as their weakened medical conditions, in addition to the ill-treatment and torture to which they were subjected, endangered their health45.