San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica's early release of 240 inmates convicted of aggravated robbery sparks controversy

A total of 240 of the 331 inmates selected by Costa Rica’s National Institute of Criminology (INC) to be released in coming days from various Costa Rican prisons were convicted of aggravated assaults, the daily La Nación reported on Wednesday.

Those 331 are part of 370 convicts who must be relocated from various prisons throughout the country following a ruling by San José judge Roy Murillo that aims at reducing overcrowding at San Sebastián Preventive Prison, south of San José.

Murillo based his ruling on the fact that San Sebastián, established to house inmates serving preventive detention while awaiting trial or sentencing, currently has the country’s highest rate of overcrowding at 79.5 percent.

At a press conference on Tuesday following President Laura Chinchilla’s weekly Cabinet meeting, the president attributed the origins of the situation “to successful work by police, judges and prosecutors to get criminals off the streets.”

According to data from the country’s prison system, Costa Rica’s prisons have a capacity for 10,046 inmates, but the current population is 13,800.

Of the 331 inmates proposed by the INC, 73 percent were convicted for aggravated robbery, 18 percent for sale or possession of drugs and 9 percent for scams, reckless driving, theft and other minor crimes.

Justice Vice Minister Jorge Rodríguez told La Nación that officials analyzed every case of robbery to establish the severity of the crimes. 

“The country’s Penal Code considers a robbery as aggravated if committed by two or more people, if violence was used, or if a firearm was used. So we excluded the most violent inmates,” Rodríguez said

He added that inmates were excluded if they were convicted of sexual offenses, murder, human trafficking, drug trafficking, organized crime or domestic violence.

But one of the prisoners released is Darío Navarro Grijalva, who left a prison in the Pacific province of Puntarenas last week. On Monday, he was arrested as a suspect in the murder of a restaurant owner in that province last Friday. A six-month preventive prison sentence is now added to his previous conviction, and he awaits a new trial for murder and aggravated robbery.

Judicial Investigation Police Director Francisco Segura said he is concerned about the situation: “I would expect the INC study to be as detailed as possible to avoid recidivism of people being released.”

Judge Murillo’s ruling earlier this month ordered the Justice Ministry’s prison system to relocate the inmates, adding that “if there is no room at other prisons, prisoners closest to finishing their sentences should be released.”

He also warned he would file charges at the Prosecutor’s Office against all officials involved if his order was ignored.

Contact L. Arias at

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