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Venezuela to release 40 percent of prisoners to reduce overcrowding

Venezuelan Minister for Prisons Iris Varela announced Sunday that she plans to release up to 40 percent of the country's prisoners in an effort to reduce prison overcrowding [JURIST news archive]. Varela, who was appointed [TeleSUR report, in Spanish] to the position by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] last week, said roughly 20,000 inmates who had committed minor crimes and who posed no danger to society would be conditionally released [BBC report]. Prison authorities will begin determining which inmates could be eligible for release starting this week. Varela's appointment, as well as the latest measures to reduce prison overcrowding, come in response to a deadly uprising at El Rodeo prison [BBC report] in Guatire, Venezuela. Over 25 people died during the June riot and stand-off when armed prisoners clashed with National Guard troops. Chavez has set aside nearly $100 million for reforming the Venezuelan prison system, which is notoriously overcrowded.

Prison overcrowding is a problem faced by a number of countries around the world. California Governor Jerry Brown [official website] submitted a plan [press release] in June to reduce the state's prison population [JURIST report] by over 30,000 inmates to satisfy a court order [JURIST report] to reduce overcrowding. Canada allocated $105 million in September 2010 to build new prison cells at four existing prisons in anticipation of a drastic increase in prisoners [JURIST report] over the next several years. In September 2008, UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Patricia O'Brien [appointment release] found that prison overcrowding in countries with UN peacekeeping missions threatens the success of those missions [JURIST report]. The government of Bangladesh [JURIST news archive] announced plans to release certain inmates in June 2008 and later in August 2010 [JURIST reports]. Also in June 2008, the Third Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a plan to ease prison overcrowding by transferring prisoners to out-of-state facilities did not violate the state's constitution [text]. The UK has also instituted a plan to release inmates ahead of schedule, and Iraq has experienced increasing overcrowding problems [JURIST reports].

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