Venezuela: Turning Jails into Schools



Iris Varela was named Minister of Penitentiary Services in June this year (Archive)

Moving forward with prison reform at the national level, Venezuelan Minister for Penitentiary Services, Iris Varela, announced this week the implementation of a prisoner survey designed to uncover unnecessary hangups in the legal system and relieve strains on the inmate population.

The survey forms part of the ministry’s strategy to humanize prisons in the South American nation by eliminating overcrowding and provide meaningful rehabilitation opportunities to those serving time.

Crucial to this reform is the effective and efficient execution of judicial proceedings which many times fall victim to the excessive bureaucracy of Venezuela’s legal system.

“There is a lot of optimism and hope around the idea that judicial processes are accelerated”, the Minister said during a visit to the Tocuyito Prison in the state of Carabobo.

Thus far, some 21,000 prisoners have responded to the survey which began on October 1 and will run until December 2.

“The objective is to ease the congestion of the penitentiaries, dismantle the mafias ALBA countries and G-77 call for stronger UN climate accords Venezuela:

Turning jails into schools and promote appropriate prison conditions so we can convert the jails into schools for training and education”, she explained.


During an interview on the program Jose Vicente Today broadcast by private television station Televen on Sunday, Minister Varela also spoke of a new plan currently in the works to put an end to the possession of illegal arms by inmate populations.

Referring to the groups of organized crime that have seized control of certain sectors of the penitentiary system, Valera spoke of the political interests that lie behind many of the issues currently plaguing the prisons.

“These mafias exist thanks to even more dangerous mafias that operate from the outside. Those who say that we need to privatize the prisons are involved in this business”, the Minister accused.

In order to attack this problem, Varela explained, the ties between external and internal mafias need to be severed and prisoners need to be offered a humanistic alternative to criminal activity rooted in employment and productive opportunities.

“Inside the penitentiaries there is a human potential that is willing to work… When you speak to inmates about a plan for them to have work when they gain their freedom, they become filled with jubilation”, she said.

To provide these jobs, Varela informed, her ministry is currently in conversations with the state-owned telecommunications company Cantv and the government’s National Institute of Socialist Training and Education to put 3,000 prisoners to work following the successful completion of their sentence.

“Work redeems. The plan that we have consists of work and study”, she affirmed.


Venezuela’s Ministry for Penitentiary Services was created in June of this year after an uprising in the Rodeo II prison brought national attention to the state of the country’s correctional facilities.

Neglected for decades by previous governments, Venezuela’s prisons have suffered from chronic overcrowding and have operated in many ways as a microcosm of the organized criminal activity present in the country’s largest cities.

The current administration of President Hugo Chavez has attempted to improve conditions for the more than 40,000 inmates around the country by writing prisoners’ rights into the nation’s constitution for the first time and creating educational, recreational and artistic programs for the incarcerated.

Yet despite these efforts, the problem of prison overcrowding and corruption within the system continues to be a problem.

On Sunday, Varela described the need for a willingness on the part of both the inmates and the government to find answers to the issues still affecting
the prisons.

“A transformation of the penitentiary system will not be achieved if those incarcerated are not willing to accept a process of change”, she stated.

The Minister also reiterated the lack of a magic bullet solution to the problem and reiterated the fact that true reform will take time to implement.

“There are those that are expecting a chronic problem to be solved in 2 months. This is irresponsible”, she said, pointing out that a vast majority of those critical of the penitentiary system have never even stepped inside the visiting area of a prison.

“It’s easy to have an opinion about something when you don’t know the issues and only listen to what the mafias want you to know. Many times they’re painting a picture of reality that doesn’t exist”, she said



About B.J. Murphy

I'm a young socialist and Transhumanist activist within the East Coast region, who writes for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), India Future Society, and Serious Wonder. I'm also the Social Media Manager for Serious Wonder, an Advisory Board Member for the Lifeboat Foundation, and a Co-Editor for Fight Back! News.

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