San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Crime $$ Trickles Down

Money from a supplemental security appropriations law is slowly making its way to where it may be able to help: the courts, prosecutors and police.

The Legislative Assembly passed a $165 million supplemental appropriations law in late April that earmarked $28.4 million of additional funds to the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), Prosecutor’s Office, courts and Public Security Ministry.

The additional resources were approved less than a year after the Arias administration was obliged by OIJ Chief Jorge Rojas to take the country’s deteriorating security situation more seriously (TT, Oct. 5, 2007).

Last December, Rojas, a 37-year OIJ veteran, threatened to quit by January if more resources didn’t come OIJ’s way. Arias then promised to support more law enforcement resources, and Rojas stayed on.

According to a plan summary provided by the National Liberation Party (PLN) and the Finance Ministry, the new resources are intended to fund an additional 559 OIJ positions, 152 prosecutor staff, 66 judge and assistant positions and 50 public defenders.

The Justice Ministry was also to get $3.9 million to construct a new prison unit that would house up to 600 inmates who are in preventive prison awaiting their trials.

In Costa Rica, the law requires them to be housed separately from convicts but jail overcrowding doesn’t allow this, according to Justice Vice Minister Fernando Ferraro.

The increase in funding for the courts was to finance a new “justice express” pilot program, a 24-hour court to deliver verdicts within 48 hours on misdemeanor cases and cases in which suspects were caught in the act by police.

But since the resources were approved, progress has been slow on some of the projects they are supposed to fund.

Ferraro said the Justice Ministry received only $1.9 million to contract the construction of the prison, which he says may only have space for 400 inmates.

“The project is still in the preliminary design phase, and we still have to figure out where it’s going to be built,” he said.

One possibility is as an addition to the Pococí prison in Limón province on the Caribbean coast, he said, but the ideal location would be closer to San José because that’s where most suspects are arrested.

Officials, however, are encountering “not-in-my-backyard” opposition. “Communities always lobby against prison construction,” he said.

Criminal Court (Sala III) Chief Justice José Arroyo said the “justice express” pilot program will be gradual and phased in over a two- to three-year period.

“We’re going to go slow to see if it’s working,” he said. “We’re going to have to work very hard on this.”

Arroyo said the project should start within a month, with 12 new judges in the Second Circuit Court in Guadalupe de Goicoechea in San José. He said the final goal will be 48 new judges, 12 each in San José, and the surrounding cities of Heredia, Alajuela and Cartago.

The chief justice said he hopes the project, along with other changes allowing more oral – instead of paper-based – filings will greatly speed up criminal judicial proceedings. He also said he hopes the project will help tackle the issue of juvenile repeat-offenders.

“The mechanisms of control are failing with the problem of juvenile delinquency and multiple repeat offenders,” he said. “The citizens are right to complain about our performance, and we hope this project will improve the situation.”

Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Marisel Rodríguez said so far, her agency has already contracted 23 new prosecutors and 77 new assistant prosecutors with their share of the new funds.

Public Security Minister Janina del Vecchio said her agency received $1.4 million, and she is using the money to purchase body armor and spare parts and to build more police stations in Limón province.

Rojas and his deputy chief, Francisco Segura, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.


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