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Venezuela Table of Contents


The Prison System

The Venezuelan prison system, which consisted of twenty-five institutions, suffered from overcrowding and understaffing as well as from graft and corruption. In the mid-1980s, the annual average prison population was about 15,000, exceeding the intended capacity of the system. As a result, prison conditions generally were inadequate, and prisoners commonly endured hardship and sometimes were subjected to physical abuse. As the national crime rate rose during the 1980s, the problems of the prison system became more acute.

The twenty-five prisons were essentially of three kinds: seventeen judicial detainment centers, seven national jails and penitentiaries, and the National Institute of Female Orientation located in Los Teques. Ostensibly, the prisons were designed to house those awaiting trial, those convicted, and women, respectively. In fact, however, several of the prisons had separate wings for each kind of inmate, although Los Teques housed the majority of female inmates and contained no males. Minors were interned in separate institutions. Prisons were staffed by civilian employees of the Ministry of Justice, although exterior guard duty was entrusted to National Guard personnel.

By law the rehabilitation of convicted criminals was based on their having meaningful work, an opportunity to receive at least a minimal education, and adequate medical assistance and living conditions. In fact, however, the overcrowded conditions precluded rehabilitation efforts. The idleness of many inmates, it is theorized, led to corruption, drug abuse, and homosexuality, all of which were growing problems in the prisons. One large Caracas prison had an entire wing that housed homosexuals exclusively.

Conditional liberty was granted to prisoners who had served at least three-fourths of their sentence and had a favorable conduct record. Prisoners who reached seventy years of age and had completed half their sentence were eligible for conditional liberty. Several organizations existed to help prisoners who had been released to find jobs and readjust to society. Nevertheless, the ex-convict encountered a generally hostile society on the outside, and the high rate of criminal repeaters was attributed largely to the stigma attached to the ex-convict.

The criminal justice system represented a glaring example of an area that lagged behind the many other comparative advances in Venezuelan society during the latter half of the twentieth century. Given the government's emphasis on reforming the bureaucratic structure that underlay the nation's economic shortcomings, it did not appear that judicial reform would be accorded a high priority during the 1990s. As with most of Venezuela's problems, however, the resources existed with which to effect reforms. Only the political will and the legislative procedure remained to be hammered out.

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Aside from the section on Venezuela in Adrian English's Armed Forces of Latin America, there is no comprehensive source in English on the Venezuelan armed forces. Good historical background can be gleaned from Winfield J. Burggraaff's The Venezuelan Armed Forces in Politics, 1935-1959. David J. Myers's Venezuela's Pursuit of Caribbean Basin Interests is an excellent overview of the country's strategic situation and thinking. Jacqueline Anne Braveboy-Wagner in The VenezuelaGuyana Border Dispute: Britain's Colonial Legacy in Latin America and John D. Martz in his article "National Security and Politics: The Colombian-Venezuelan Border" effectively address Venezuela's border disputes. Robert E. Looney has produced good studies of Venezuelan military expenditures from an economic standpoint. Several periodicals occasionally report on technical and organizational developments within the FAN. These include Jane's Defence Weekly, Military Technology, and Defense and Foreign Affairs. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1990

Country Listing

Venezuela Table of Contents