Census begins at Paraguay's most overcrowded, mismanaged prison

EFE

Paraguay's Justice Ministry and Higher Electoral Tribunal (TSJE) initiated Monday the census of inmates at Asuncion's Tacumbu Prison, the most overcrowded in the country and currently involved in irregularities because of the presence of so many minors visiting its private rooms.

The census, which is meant to provide a precise view of the Paraguayan penitentiary system, will help authorities "improve the living conditions" of prisoners, as was said at the beginning of the census campaign at La Esperanza prison in late October.

Now it is Tacumbu's turn, a prison afflicted with extreme overcrowding, as confirmed by prison inspector Arnildo Gomez, who said the facility was built with a capacity for 1,800 inmates but currently holds close to 3,300.

Gomez said the overcrowding means there are inmates "with no physical space," and though "we try to make sure" that the "food and living spaces" are in "the best condition," the number of prisoners and their own misconduct "make it impossible" that those living conditions can be fulfilled.

The inspector took charge of the prison early this month following the dismissal of the previous director, Luis Villagra, when the ministry realized the "irregularities," including those that were revealed this weekend, when the Attorney General's Office reported the opening of an investigation into the entry of minors into the prison.

According to data of the AG's Office, since last July, 289 minors entered the "private" rooms of Tacumbu where they met with inmates, sometimes for days, visits that Gomez said "are absolutely forbidden."

At a press conference in the prison, Justice Minister Julio Rios said the main purpose of the census is "to have all the data digitized" so not a detail is overlooked and to make it possible to access "in real time" information about each prisoner.

The information gathered refers to personal and health data, as well as the state of their prison sentences, with a system of "alerts about the notices received about them," the minister said.

The information gathered will be "interwoven" with that of the judicial branch and the police, Rios said, and will enable a "monitoring of everyone who visits the prison."

Paraguay's penitentiary system has a total capacity for 9,000 convicts, but currently holds some 15,000 people deprived of their freedom, of whom some 80 percent are in the midst of court procedures awaiting their sentences, official sources said.

The government's National Torture Prevention Mechanism (MNP) estimates that the penitentiary system is not just 100 percent occupied but 337.7 percent occupied, a fact that has forced the government to consider the construction of four new prisons.

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