The deaths of more than 30 inmates involved in confrontations with prison guards in northern Venezuela are the “fruit” of the government’s passive response to organized crime in the prison system, stated Venezuela's bishops.
Venezuelan authorities “have completely abandoned their responsibility to safeguard the lives and physical integrity of the prison population and have instead allowed the mafia and gangs inside prisons to arm themselves and operate openly … and to exercise complete control inside these institutions,” said the Justice and Peace Committee of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference on June 17.
The bishops criticized the lack of response to the ongoing violence at El Rodeo Prison in the State of Miranda, where officials said 22 inmates have been killed in riots with prison guards since June 12.
Venezuelan media reported that in addition to the riots at El Rodeo, 16 prison guards were wounded in violent clashes at the National Boliviarian Prison on June 17.
Violence apparently broke out after an additional 5,000 prison guards were sent in to maintain order. Family members complained the surge sparked a massacre inside the prison, but one government official said prison administrators were acting in accord with the Venezuelan constitution.
“This is not a massacre; it is an attempt to preserve the lives of those inside the prison,” the official said.
In their statement the bishops deplored the “indescribable conditions suffered by inmates in Venezuelan prisons,” and disputed government accounts on the number of those killed in the violent confrontations.
According to reports from family members, they noted, “37 inmates were killed and at least as many were injured.”
The bishops said government officials “must not abdicate their authority and obligation” to safeguard the rights and lives of the prison population. As long as the structural problems that are present in the Venezuelan system of justice are not resolved, “We will be condemned to repeat this situation of true horror” over and over again, they said.