The Armed Forces and National Police will be responsible for maintaining security for the national prison system effective immediately, President Guillermo Lasso said Monday night following a day-long meeting of top officials at the Presidential Palace. The emergency meeting was held in the aftermath of the deadly riot at the Litoral Penitentiary in Guayaquil on Friday and Saturday.
“This is not a permanent solution but it is necessary for an indefinite period of time due to the current emergency,” Lasso said. “We must make structural changes to the prison system and must respect the human rights of prisoners and their families. We will begin work on these issues immediately.”
The riot in Guayaquil, which left at least 62 dead, is the latest in a series of uprisings in prisons in Guayaquil, Cuenca, Quito and Latacunga that began in February. The riots, which the government blames on criminal gangs associated with Mexican drug cartels, have resulted in more than 300 deaths.
Lasso said that 500 military personnel and 500 police officers have been assigned to Litoral Penitentiary.
In addition to putting the military and police in charge of security, Lasso said he is preparing prison reform legislation to send to the National Assembly and will file legal actions against drug cartels to seize bank accounts and property. He will also introduce legislation to provide financial compensation to the families of those killed and injured in the riots.
“In all that we do, the security and rights of the people of Ecuador must come first,” Lasso added. “This is the first and most important responsibility of the government.”
In details released after Lasso’s comments, the presidential press office said the National Judiciary Council will prepare a plan to speed up trials for those held in prisons awaiting sentencing. More than 40 percent of prison inmates are in protective custody but have not been convicted of a crime. In addition, the council has been instructed to find ways to strengthen human rights protections of prisoners and their families.
In other action, the Council for Citizen Participation and Social Control has been instructed to include citizen participation in the dialogue to find solutions for the prison system. It will also coordinate a study to strengthen the training and role of prison security guards.
Other actions include expediting the release of prisoners convicted of minor crimes and those with terminal illnesses.