Ecuador pardons some inmates after deadly prison riots

Ecuador is seeking to ease overcrowding in its prisons after gang-linked riots killed more than 300 people this year.

Ecuador's prisons are plagued by overcrowding of about 30 percent and poor living conditions for the system's 39,000 inmates [Santiago Arcos/Reuters]

Ecuador’s president has pardoned some prisoners in an effort to ease overcrowding in the country’s prisons following a string of riots that left more than 300 people dead this year.

In a statement late on Monday, Guillermo Lasso’s press office said the president had pardoned prisoners involved in traffic offences that did not cause injury or death, as well as others suffering from serious or terminal illnesses.

It did not specify how many people would receive a pardon.

“This decision includes the total forgiveness of custodial sentences but does not extinguish the obligation of comprehensive reparations (to victims) that all those receiving pardons are responsible for,” the statement said.

Ecuador saw its deadliest prison riot on record in September, when 119 people – all inmates – were killed at Penitenciaria del Litoral, a facility in the coastal city of Guayaquil, in what authorities said were clashes between rival gangs linked to drug trafficking.

Earlier this month, another riot took place in the same prison, killing dozens of inmates.

Experts have pointed to nationwide prison overcrowding, a lack of rehabilitation programmes for inmates, a shortage of trained staff, and inadequate infrastructure inside the facilities as some of the key problems contributing to the violence.

The prisons are plagued by overcrowding of about 30 percent and poor living conditions for the system’s 39,000 inmates.

The head of the prison authority said in early October that Ecuador planned to pardon as many as 2,000 prisoners to ease the pressure on the system, with priority for release given to elderly and female prisoners, as well as those with disabilities and terminal illnesses.

Ecuador is also preparing to send 170 Colombian prisoners back to their own country, following an agreement with the Colombian government over the weekend.

Lasso’s government also has pledged to use the armed forces and police to maintain order at the prisons.

But critics question whether increased militarisation will solve the problem.

“Entering with violence is not the solution. You can’t have a focus on militarisation and repression, you have to have a focus on rehabilitation, otherwise it won’t work,” Ramiro Narvaez, a lawmaker with the Izquierda Democratica (Democratic Left) party, told Al Jazeera this month.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies