Recent tragedies in two hemisferic jails in less than five days, resulting in the death of nearly 400 inmates, force us to examine the situation in Colombian jails. Extreme overpopulation and increasingly frequent cases of corruption within prisons are time bombs with a short fuse that's slowly starting to burn. It's highly likely that something like what happened last Wednesday in the Comayagua prison in Honduras or on Sunday in the Apodaca prison in Mexico will happen in Colombia.
Warnings are everywhere: the precarious physical conditions of the facilities, an exponential increase in arrests as a result of the State's amped-up fight against crime and, consequently, overpopulated prisons, not to mention internal confrontations, corrupt guards and an absence of true socialization alternatives.
An additional risk is having dangerous criminals, terrorists and drug traffickers housed alongside those convicted of minor crimes and misdemeanors. To avoid tragedies it won't be enough to build more jails. The State must also design a coherent anti-crime policy in line with all branches of power.
The fight against all criminal activity must function as public policy that allows unity of command in criminal and penitentiary issues. In addition, the penitentiary system must deal with the dismal humanitarian reality faced by Colombian inmates. It's unheard of that aside from losing their freedom, inmates' fundamental rights are often violated and their basic right to live a somewhat dignified life behind bars is denied.
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