San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Human rights

Costa Rica's Supreme Court condemns prisoner torture allegations

Costa Rica’s troubled prisons got dealt another black eye on Wednesday.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, known as the Sala IV, revealed that over 30 prisoners incarcerated in the maximum-security wing of La Reforma Prison, north of the capital, claimed to have been beaten and mistreated by penitentiary guards. A statement from the Sala IV said the complaints demonstrated a pattern of abuse during a short period of time.

The daily La Nación reported that the prisoners accused guards of beating and kicking them, and using chemical gas on their eyes, mouths and genitals. Some accused guards of forcing fingers into prisoners’ anuses.

The Sala IV ordered the Justice Ministry, which oversees Costa Rica’s prison system, to present a plan to address the alleged human rights abuses within three months.

Last February, ex-President Laura Chinchilla signed a law implementing the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. The law established a mechanism within the Ombudsman’s Office to review and recommend improvements for prison conditions.

The Sala IV ordered the Justice Ministry to involve the anti-torture unit in its review of the complaints at the prison.

Aside from the recent allegations of mistreatment at prisons, overcrowding remains one of the biggest challenges facing the penitentiary system. Spikes in incarceration have swelled Costa Rica’s prison rolls. Chinchilla said prisons were 38 percent over capacity in her last speech as president to the Legislative Assembly in May.

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When I was a Correctional Officer in a maximum security prison about one out of every hundred complaints was real and justified.

Put the inmates on public work crews, chained together, in the public. No one will get mistreated when they are in public being worked all day. That cuts the chances in half in one fail swoop.

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