Lasso urges speedier trials as nearly a sixth of the country’s prisoners have not been sentenced

Jul 12, 2023 | 6 comments

Nearly a sixth of the inmates in Ecuador’s prisons have not been sentenced, a national census showed on Monday, as President Guillermo Lasso urged the judicial system to be speedier to help ease the burden on overcrowded jails.

Prisoners at the Cotopaxi prison undergo a weapons search following a 2021 riot.

Lasso, who will leave office later this year after bringing forward elections, told journalists the current prison population is 31,321 and that most inmates were arrested for drug trafficking, robbery or homicide.

That figure is above the 30,134 prisoner capacity that the national prisons agency SNAI said the 36-prison system would have in December 2022. It added that more than 8,000 prisoners convicted of minor crimes have been released since 2021.

Overcrowding was 12.9%, SNAI said in June, but officials did not give an updated figure for overcrowding on Monday.

Ecuador’s prison system has faced structural problems for decades, amid overcrowding and precarious living conditions for inmates, but riots have become increasingly common, killing more than 400 prisoners since late 2020.

The census showed that over 5,000 people, or 16% of total prisoners, have been convicted of crimes but not yet sentenced or are being held in prison pending trial, Lasso said, adding the figure should be a cause for concern among the judiciary.

“Our policy is not to have more prisoners or build more prisons, our policy is to release those who deserve that freedom because they have served their sentences,” Lasso said during an event about the census results.

The government has attributed prison violence to fighting between criminal groups for control of prisons and drug trafficking routes.

However, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said violence is also due to high rates of overpopulation and reduced budgets for rehabilitation, among other causes.

Prisoners have complained about the quality of the basic services and supply of food, the census also showed.
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Credit: Reuters

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