San Pedro Prison Inmates: “Collapse is Imminent”

La Razón, La Paz, 14-Feb-2011: The San Pedro Prison infrastructure, which dates back to 1895, puts the lives of 1700 prisoners at risk, according to inmate representative Dante Escobar. The Penitenciary Regimen is considering the construction of a new building.

“This prison is a constant danger because the infrastructure dates back to last century. It isn’t built using bricks or reinforced concrete; it’s made of adobe. The walls are moist and could kill many people. The internal sections, where inmates live in crowded conditions, and even the daycare center we have, are in danger,” said Escobar.

Last week some of the inmates prevented others from entering or leaving to attend court hearings, in protest against the lack of response from authorities to a broken bathroom water main that runs through the kitchen, putting the inmates’ health in danger.

Escobar reported that the prison has a general problem with its infrastructure which has worsened during the current rainy season. The mud walls have softened and the building is at risk.

Deterioration. The inmate representative warned that the walls are cracking in all eight prison sections and that the wood is rotting in the hallways due to both water and the passage of time. He added that the security walls in the “La Grulla” and “La Muralla” sectors, which run along Cañada Strongest and 20 de Octubre streets respectively, tend to fall because they become soaked and accumulate rainwater.

“These structures have no ventilation and water can only be removed using suction pumps. The inmates have already warned the Penitentiary Regimen director (Jorge Antonio Sueiro) that if something happens he will be held responsible for it,” he said. He acknowledged that to date there have been no injuries but indicated that “collapse is imminent”.

Sueiro, who listened to the inmates’ demands during a meeting on Thursday the 10th, acknowledged that the San Pedro Prison infrastructure is ancient, over a century old, indicating as well that for some time now it has been home to many more prisoners than it should be, as it was initially constructed for only 300 people. However, he also blamed the prisoners themselves for its rapid deterioration.

“The prison has deteriorated due to remodeling and doorways they’ve opened. The prison walls are a meter thick but the inmates have carved out niches in the walls where they put their televisions. They’ve also connected bathrooms and showers wherever they’ve wanted to. This has been deteriorating the structure which, of course, is old. Humidity is also a cause and the walls are cracking,” he stated. He explained that during his time as prison director he has no longer been working to ensure the prison is repaired. Instead, he is proposing the construction of a new, modern prison.

“We don’t want any more patch-ups. We are taking (this problem) seriously and we see the need for a new center with adequate capacity for at least 500 cells,” he indicated. However, he clarified that construction would not take place immediately as no land or financing have yet been obtained.

Inhumane. According to Ombudsman Rolando Villena, the constant danger and crowded conditions in which the prisoners live “borders on completely inhumane” and should be resolved with the construction of a new prison.

“Last year we held conversations with the Government Ministry. One of the short-term solutions proposed was the construction of a new center, with good infrastructure and conditions, so that by ensuring the inmates’ health, education and other rights, they can be reinserted into society,” he said.

Villena believes this prison does not ensure those human rights and, therefore, “structural changes must be made”. According to Escobar, the inmates continue to live in fear of collapsing walls and bathrooms, and have taken to repairing the ancient building themselves.

“Deterioration is generalized. There are many delays in the repairs the Government Ministry must make. We even have to buy cement ourselves when there is an urgent need to fix something,” he declared.

Inmates demand stipend increase

Due to increasing food costs, inmates throughout the country are demanding the stipend they’ve been receiving for the past two years be raised from Bs. 5.50 per day to Bs. 15. The Penitentiary Regimen will issue a response by Friday.

Hallways and steps are barely holding up

The hallways and stairways made of wood over a century ago are still holding up, but humidity and daily use are causing materials to deteriorate and they are now a danger to San Pedro inmates. According to the prisoners, in some sections of the prison the stairs need to be completely reconstructed.

Walls deteriorated by water are about to collapse

The internal walls of the prison are cracking and falling apart. The most dangerous cases within the San Pedro prison are in the Pinos, Álamos, Palmar and San Martín sections. The inmates are pleading for an immediate solution. Possible transfer to a new jail could take over a year, according to authorities.

The inmates have few places to entertain themselves

In addition to the already precarious conditions of the balconies and hallways used to reach the second floor, which are about to collapse as the wood they are made of has rotted, the San Pedro prison has only one area where inmates can carry out physical activities, known as the "Cancha".

The prison sewage system is also deteriorating

Prisoners have to find creative ways to unclog drainage and sewage pipes, by hand, in order to ensure they don’t become a cesspool of infections for themselves and some of the family members that live in the prison. Last weeks they protested to demand the Prison Directors solve the problem.

Source: La Razón - Date: 14-Feb-2011 - Read this Article in Spanish

Read more about San Pedro Prison here.

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