The city of Quito was the venue for the First Consensus Conference in the prison environment where financial aid was announced to alleviate the prison crisis facing Ecuador. The conference sought to generate dialogue, debate, agreements and recommendations with regard to meeting the challenges presented by the prison system.
The event was chaired by the Ecuadorian State with the support of the EL PAcCTO Programme backed by the European Union and the Esquel Foundation. The purpose was to create a space for dialogue between various social actors: academia, civil organisations, government agencies, among others. In this way to be able to formulate recommendations together and work in a coordinated manner to support complex decision-making.
According to the latest data, more than 400 prisoners have died during clashes between organised gangs in prisons in recent times. The crisis, which shows the high overcrowding and lack of classification in prisons, threatens the Ecuadorian prison system. The 2.5 million euro contribution made by the European Union in the face of the acute prison crisis, which will be managed through EL PAcCTO, will be used for the training and specialisation of prison staff and for obtaining tools to improve the classification of prisoners. Xavier Cousquer, director of EL PAcCTO, mentioned that the emergency funds are earmarked for a specific project that is to begin in July 2022.
The prison crisis in two words
Due to the lack of classification and the overcrowding that Ecuador is experiencing in its prisons, the European Union intends, through the aid announced, to formalise working methods by providing training based on the success of the European model. The European Union agrees with the diagnosis recently carried out by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), that more prison guards are required and that they will be offered training. Cousquer advocates the strengthening of international coordination because “these are international phenomena that cannot be addressed solely from a national viewpoint”.
Reduction of the prison population and high security sections
Some of the proposals made during these days of consensus were that alternative measures to the deprivation of liberty be applied to control overcrowding, and that more spaces which serve as maximum security sections be set up. “We have collectively forgotten that the deprivation of liberty is the last resort”, says director Xavier Cousquer of EL PAcCTO before insisting that “it cannot be the only punishment.”
According to the latest data provided by the Ecuadorian Prison Service (SNAI), the prison population in September 2021 was 38,700 prisoners spread over 36 detention centres, with a capacity for 30,000.
EL PAcCTO and its work in Ecuador
Since 2018, EL PAcCTO has been working to strengthen the National Comprehensive Care Service for Adults in Detention and Adolescent Offenders (SNAI). Its management procedure is divided into three component parts: police cooperation, cooperation between justice systems, and the prison systems’ area. This programme is headed up by the International and Ibero-American Foundation for Administration and Public Policies (FIIAPP-Spain) and Expertise France (France). It has the help of two coordinating partners, the Italian-Latin American Institute (IILA) of Italy, and the Camões Institute of Portugal. It is the only technical cooperation programme that has a specific prison component, as well as the entire criminal chain within its scope of work: police, legal, and prison.
The European Union together with EL PAcCTO reaffirm their commitment to the National Government and civil society to work in a coordinated manner and create favourable spaces that enable the reaching of agreements to guarantee everyone’s well-being.