San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Justice's ruling forces overcrowded San José jail to relocate or release 370 inmates

Due to overcrowding, a San José judge, Roy Murillo Rodríguez, has ordered the Justice Ministry’s prison system to relocate or release 370 inmates at San Sebastián Prison, located south of the capital.

If there is no room at other prisons, the judge said prisoners closest to finishing their sentences should be released. 

San Sebastián Prison houses inmates who are serving preventive detention while awaiting trial, and it has the country’s highest rate of overcrowding (127 percent), with 1,247 prisoners. 

Following the order, Justice Ministry officials began reviewing inmates’ criminal records and searching for space in other prisons, although most of the country’s prison are severely overcrowded.

On average, Costa Rican jails are overpopulated by 40 percent, according the country’s prison system. 

Government officials are obliged to comply with the ruling in coming days, and Judge Murillo warned he would file charges at the Prosecutor’s Office against all officials involved if his order was ignored.

President Laura Chinchilla on Tuesday said her administration “would be strict in applying the court order,” adding that officials would use “restrictive criteria” to determine who would be released.

The president of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala III, Carlos Chinchilla, said Murillo has no authority to issue the order, and he is backed by other Sala III justices.

Justice Chinchilla said he would appeal to the Supreme Court next week to ask them to throw out Murillo’s ruling.

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