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Latino Daily News

Monday March 14, 2011

Chile Plans to Build New Prisons and Grant Pardons to Ease Overcrowding

Just last year, in an overcrowded Chilean prison, 81 inmates burned to death after a prison riot erupted. Now, to ease said overcrowding, Chile’s government will grant as many 10,000 pardons.

Representatives from all of Chile’s political parties met with Justice Minister Felipe Bulnes and Vice President Rodrigo Hinzpeter to discuss the government’s plan.

Using last year’s San Miguel prison riot and subsequent fire as an example, Bulnes explained the need for change and furthered his explanation of the current state of the prison system, and how the mixing of the inmates during the fire was horrific, as first time offenders came face-to-ace with the some of the country’s most violent criminals.

The plan not only includes the building of new prisons with separate high and low security sections, but also new training for the prison guards. Limited pardons are also being considering. It has been reported that these pardons would result in between 4,000 and 6,000 prisoners being released, though El Mercurio believed as many as 10,000 could benefit.

Currently, to exit a prison in Chile, a person must pay a fee. Under this new proposal, that fee would be eliminated, and could benefit around 1,500 still in prison simply because they can’t pay the fee.

A second change being proposed is a sort of commuting of sentencing, in which prisoners whose sentence is less than one year, will be allowed to exchange their jail time for a specified work commitment.

Conditional freedom procedures would also refined, allowing for a theoretically quicker process. Currently, a panel of judges decides if each prisoner presented is worthy of conditional freedom, and their decision is moved along to the regional acting governor, who only approves about 25 percent of the cases. Under the new proposal, the panel of judges proposal would basically be the final word, and the decision would no longer lie with the acting governor.

Next would be terminally ill prisoners, who have been certified as such by the Legal Medical Service. They would be granted release, as well as those over the age of 8- who have served at least two-thirds of their (non-life) sentence.

Any prisoner benefiting from these changes would have to sign an agreement promising good behavior, which, if broken, would result in additional jail time with more harsh punishment.