LARA, Venezuela — A new prison opened in the state of Lara in Venezuela in October as part of an overhaul of the country’s notoriously violent prison system. The 17-building Fenix Community Penitentiary is the first of 24 new prisons planned to be built in the country, seven of which are already under construction.
The facility has a capacity of 1,400 inmates and is comprised of minimum-, medium- and maximum-security sections. It is located near the previous Uribana prison in Barquisimeto, where56 inmates and one member of the Venezuelan National Guard were killed and 46 additional inmates suffered injuries during a massive riot in January. At the time, Uribana prison was holding about 2,400 inmates in a facility built for 850. The government gave $24.3 million towards repairing the jail, according to InSight Crime.
About 457 prisoners have already been moved to the new facility Minister for Correctional Services Iris Valera told Venezuela Analysis. At the penitentiary, inmates are required to either work or study as part of a new model for the prison system. At the inauguration of the Fenix facility, Vice President Jorge Arreaza announced, “In a few years, under the new model, all inmates will be in conditions like these. They may use these centers to reform, renew the spirit and have a life after leaving here.”
The construction project is part of a wider reform for the prison network. CNN reported in May that there are 45,500 inmates in 33 Venezuelan prisons that were built for 17,500. This means the overcrowding rate in the country's prison system is 176 percent. Marianela Sánchez, an attorney with the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, a prisoner rights organization, told CNN that the observatory estimates that about 5,300 inmates have died inside prison walls since 1999 and more than 15,000 have been injured. Many of the fatalities and injuries have been the result of prison uprisings.
The opening of the Lara facility comes just over a week after six inmates in a prison in Amazonas state were killed. In September, another outbreak of prison violence killed 15 people at the Sabaneta prison in Zulia state. The facility was holding approximately 3,700 inmates in the facility built to hold 700, reported Venezuela Analysis.