“Living conditions are not good in Ecuador’s prison system and they are terrible in some cases,” Interior Minister Alexandra Vera said Thursday in a Tweet. She added that she expects the forthcoming investigation by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) to confirm that fact.
More than 300 prisoners have died in riots in the country’s prisons since February, the most recent deaths coming last weekend at Guayaquil’s Litoral Penitentiary. Following requests by the families of prisoners, the IACHR has scheduled a visit to Ecuador prisons from December 1 – 3.
“The commission will find major deficiencies during their investigation, all of which we are aware of and are planning to correct,” Vera said. “We welcome their visit and look forward to their recommendations.”
A report released Wednesday by the Center for Interdisciplinary Ethnography at the University of the Americas noted that government funding does not cover the basic needs of prisoners and that some inmates are living on “starvation diets.”
The report says that families that can afford it, send as much as $250 a month for food, toiletries, including toilet paper, to support prisoners. According to the Center, it is not clear if the funds actually go to support the inmates due to what it calls a “climate of corruption” among prison staff as well as prison gang members.
Many prisoners do not have mattresses and sleep on the floor in open areas, the report says. “The funding allocation for prisoner care is extremely inadequate, which is a factor in the recent unrest and riots in the prisons. These conditions provide gang leaders within the prisons the incentive to promote violent activity.”
The Center says that conditions at Litoral Penitientiary are “worse by far” among the countries six largest prisons. “Litoral houses 8,542 people while its stated maximum capacity is 5,200. In other words, the overcrowding rate is 62.8%. In addition, there is little effort to segregate convicts who have committed violent crimes from those who have committed non-violent offenses. Neither is there an effort to protect the 47 percent of inmates who are awaiting trial and who have not been convicted.”
In preparation of its visit, the IACHR team welcomed the willingness of the government to cooperate in the investigation but urged immediate action to correct what it called “extreme” problems. In particular, the IACHR said the government “should take steps to segregate the most violent inmates” and perform a review of management procedures in addressing protests.