On August 23, an uncharacteristically violent riot occurred in Bolivia's largest prisons; 35 died as a result. The tragedy brought international attention to the extreme overcrowding, judicial delay, and poor living conditions that have plagued the country’s penal system for decades.
Over 84 percent of inmates are still awaiting trial, and have been for years. Most have committed nonviolent crimes, the great majority for low-level drug production or transport, in an effort to feed their families. The extremely high sentences set for drug offenses originate from Law 1008, legislation passed in 1988 under extreme US pressure.
It’s time for Bolivia to reform this external imposition and reform its legislation. The overburdened judicial system can no longer guarantee the rights of these people, nor in such extreme conditions can they supervise the small numbers of violent inmates.
In response to calls from Bolivia's civil society, the Bolivian government has agreed to a judicial pardon as a just solution and key firststep to provide a more humane legal system that focuses on incarceration for those who propose a genuine risk to society. On September 11th, 2013, President Morales released a decree dictating terms of pardon and amnesty for eligible prisoners. Anyone sentenced for nonviolent or non-corruption crimes with a sentence of eight years or less is eligible for a pardon; anyone who has not yet been convicted with a potential maximum sentence of four years is eligible for amnesty, These sentence ceiling will restrict the law’s impact for Bolivian drug war prisoners whose disproportionally high sentences range from 1-4 years (rudimentary cocaine paste production by pisacocas ); 5-15 years (drug production); 8-12 yrs (drug transport) and 10-25 years (trafficking).
Its up to the Bolivian congress to raise these limits to meaningfully address the prison crisis.
This video was developed in collaboration with Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw of Cocaine Prison.
Keep up-to-date with drug policy developments by subscribing to the IDPC Monthly Alert.