Ecuador's prisons blighted by state abandonment -IACHR

QUITO, March 17 (Reuters) - Ecuador's prison system, blighted by state abandonment and the absence of a comprehensive policy, has unprecedented high levels of violence and corruption and poor conditions for inmates, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said on Thursday.

A delegation from the IACHR visited Ecuador in December after violent clashes in prisons across the country saw 316 prisoners killed in 2021, up from 46 deaths in the previous year,a nearly sevenfold increase.

In a report the organization found that excessive use of preventive detention contributes to greater prison overcrowding, while budget cuts leading to job losses for prison personnel weaken the system.

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"What has existed for several decades has been an abandonment of the prison system and that abandonment has led to these high levels of violence," Stuardo Ralon, IACHR vice president of the organization's commissioner for Ecuador, told Reuters in an interview.

Ecuador's government did not immediately respond to questions about the IACHR's findings.

Ecuador must coordinate actions to combat the violence, achieve social reintegration of prisoners, and regain control of jails, Ralon added.

Ecuador's prisons are marked by overcrowding, operating at 15% above capacity, and poor living conditions for the country's 35,000 inmates.

President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency throughout Ecuador's prison system last year, deploying the country's armed forces to support police in controlling prisons.

Lasso is pushing a plan he says will reduce prison violence, which includes addressing gangs, pardoning criminals in special cases, repatriating foreign prisoners, and legal reform.

A lack of government authority in particularly violent areas in Ecuador's prisons could have contributed to criminal gangs gaining control of prisons, the IACHR report added.

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Reporting by Alexandra Valencia Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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