El Mundo published the graph above (click twice on it to see it with good definition) about how the prison population has increased during the Chavez years. As you can see, there was a drop off right off the bat, which arose from the approval of the COPP (Codigo Organico de Ordenamiento Procesal) in 1998 and its changes since then, which essentially made it easier to be tried in freedom or not be held in prison if the trial had not taken place within a certain period of time. This part was fairly easy to understand.
What was not clear though, was the sudden and steady rise in the number of prisoners starting in 2006. After five years in which the prison population remained essentially unchanged, there is a clear and constant uptrend. The only possible explanation for this, is that this was on purpose. Faced with a soaring crime rate, the Chavez Government ordered that COPP rules be tightened and more criminals be imprisones as they were tried or not to release them, as a way of controlling crime.
Given the control of the Government over the judiciary this is not such a crazy idea, it would have been a fairly easy way to at least slow down the sharp increase in crime which together with inflation is considered to be the worst problem in polls by Venezuelans. In fact, the Government had made plans to build 25 new prisons from 2006 to 2010, only two of which were actually completed. Thus, the Government really was trying to do something about the number one problem for the people, but it got trapped in its own inefficiencies and incompetence.
And the Government continues fumbling the problem today. Rather than investigate how the weapons got into the prisons and the mafias involved in prison security and corruption, the Human Rights division of the Prosecutor’s office announced today that it will look into the role played by Human Rights ONG’s in the violence and events of the El Rodeo prison over the last two weeks.
It truly is the world upside down under Chavez in Venezuela.