(CNN Spanish) — In Ecuador, and after harsh months of violence and bloody clashes between members of gangs linked to organized crime inside different prisons, the Service for the Attention of Persons Deprived of Liberty (SNAI), reported this Wednesday that it began the so-called “census penitentiary” in 36 detention centers in the country and will last three months.
According to the SNAI, the census registry seeks to improve the administration of prisons, the living conditions of inmates, meet the needs of inmates and speed up the processing of files for prison benefits and changes in the regime of deprivation of liberty.
During a meeting with journalists from international media, General Pablo Ramírez, director of the SNAI, said that the census will allow a better classification of prisons between minimum, medium and maximum security, reorder prisoners according to their sentences and disciplinary reports, improve security and infrastructure levels, strengthen human and logistical resources, and better train prison staff.
According to Ramírez, 11,000 of the 32,000 prisoners that exist in Ecuador’s prisons identify themselves with criminal gangs that so far are counted in 10 that operate in penitentiary centers.
He reported that overcrowding has been reduced in the country in the last 8 months thanks to certain prison benefits granted to between 4,000 and 4,500 inmates who were released after some technical and legal analysis.
According to Ramírez, overcrowding in prisons stands at 7.52%, that is, 20 points less than last year. However, he acknowledged that there are still prisons where overcrowding is 20%, 30% or 50%.
How is information collected for the census?
The census methodology consists of face-to-face interviews with an estimated time of 30 minutes for each inmate who must answer 150 questions of a socioeconomic nature in the different modules installed by the Service for the Attention of Prisoners, the Institute of Statistics and Censuses, the Civil Registry and the criminalistics department of the National Police.
Regarding the census of the most dangerous prisoners, Ramírez told CNN that the Public Force will collaborate in custody.
“We will enter those who have a higher security capacity. We have coordinated with the Police and Armed Forces who are also collaborating in the development of the census,” Ramírez specified.
In October, the census will be carried out in the Guayaquil prisons, where most of the prison massacres of the last two years have been generated.
Government says it prevented 331 prisoners from being killed after intelligence alerts
General Ramírez assures that after the exchange of information between institutions and the intelligence service, it was possible to prevent 331 prisoners from being assassinated inside the penitentiary centers after threats detected so far this year.
Ramírez insists that the judicial decisions that promote the transfer of certain inmates or leaders of rival gangs to other prison centers deepens the problem since the danger inside certain prisons increases.
“In recent years, the classification has not been according to levels of security or risk of those deprived of liberty, but according to organized crime groups, so if there is an opposing group and we transfer people to that center, that it is going to provoke without having prison intelligence, it is going to provoke a confrontation that in the first instance is going to generate a fight, but as it generates the incorporation of more members on one side and on the other, massacres are generated”, described the official.
He adds that it is necessary that the judges of guarantees “do not generate transfers of people with high sentences to minimum or medium security centers.”
Incorporation of prison guides and fight against corruption
The SNAI plans to recruit 1,300 more prison officers by the end of this year to reinforce the lack of personnel. Currently there are 1,600 agents who do not supply the demand and who must double shifts to maintain the security of the prison system. In addition, it foresees that next year another 1,000 agents will join the institution.
He insisted that it is currently difficult to control the entry of prohibited items into prisons such as drugs or weapons that have been used in prison massacres.
For Ramírez, more in-depth work is required in the investigation of possible extortion or links to prison officers who may be contaminated or recruited by organized crime gangs. “We eliminate corruption if impunity is eliminated,” she said.
400 dead prisoners and the call for international attention
From December 2020 to date, more than 400 prisoners have been murdered in different Ecuadorian prisons, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
In March of this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) established in its report that in Ecuador there is a “lack of effective control by the State” of prisons. The Commission insisted on its concern about the abuse of preventive detention in the country and recommended measures to apply this measure exceptionally.
On the other hand, in July of this year, Human Rights Watch, in another report, determined that overcrowding and lack of state control in prisons have contributed to members of criminal gangs committing massacres. HRW concluded that the authorities did not respond adequately or in a timely manner to prevent or impede the murders, assist relatives of the victims, and investigate the crimes.