Prison and Detention Centers Conditions in Colombia
Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (FCSPP)
Overcrowding and lack of fundamental rights such as access to health services are
characteristic of Colombian prisons. As of July 31st, 2012, 31% of the 111,242 people deprived of
their liberty (including 8,418 women) were pretrial detainees. 66,906 people are in prison for minor
crimes while only 546 people are deprived of their liberty for grave crimes committed in the context of
the armed conflict –such as forced displacement, forced disappearance and sexual violence1. 120 of the
142 prisons in the country are overcrowded. As of July 30th, 2012 the overcrowding rate was of 47% in
average, reaching peaks of 364%2. This indicates that 80,000 inmates live in overcrowding conditions.
The growth rate of the inmate population in 2011 was of 1,502 people per month, equivalent to an
average monthly growing rate of 1.48%3.
The health care system for the inmate population collapsed. Between January and July 2012, 80
people died due to lack of health services. Tuberculosis and chickenpox epidemics4 have been detected,
forcing to restrict the inmates’ visits5. Prisons also lack emergency management plans to face risks such
as fires. During 2012, at least four people died burned in Colombian prisons6. Several prisons lack a
constant supply7 of drinking water; such is the case of the Valledupar, Riocha and Guadas prisons.
Prisons’ overcrowding conditions and lack of an efficient management are keeping from
having a rigorous classification of the inmate population. In several prisons pretrial detainees are
hold in the same cells as convicted prisoners. Prisoners of the different armed groups are sometimes
forced to share the same patios and cells.
Confinement is used against inmates, as well as other types of torture and cruel, inhumane and
degrading treatments, reason why the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human
Rights urged the Colombian government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against
Torture8; the Colombian government has not answered yet. The recommendations issued by the
Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture asking the Colombian government to
eliminate confinement as punishment and restrict to the maximum its application, are being ignored.
Torture in prisons remains invisible due to the lack of criminal investigations. People who are
willing to testify are subjected to harassment and retaliation, as they remain under the custody and care
of the perpetrators. The few complaints that do reach the penal system are inadequately classified as
personal injuries. The FCSPP has learned of acts of torture that when are brought to the penal system,
end up in mediation or in cease-and-desist actions promoted by the judicial police office of the
National Prison Institute (INPEC), and thus ignoring their duty to fully investigate and prosecute these
grave conducts. Prison management also fails to report the torture complaints to the Attorney
General’s office. Finally, the Public Ministry headed by the Inspector General’s office transfers the
torture complaints to the INPEC’s internal control offices as if they were simple disciplinary
Obstacles are imposed to human rights organizations that work on behalf of the inmates’ rights, such
as visit restrictions9, this is the case of FCSPP, organization that has been denied access to prisons since
May 2012.
Situation of LGBTI people deprived of their liberty
Statistics presented by Congress member Iván Cepeda during a hearing in the House of Representatives on August 15 of
2 Statistics presented by the INPEC during the hearing in Congress on September 19, 2012.
3 Proceso
de rendición de cuentas dirección general INPEC. See page 62
4 El Espectador, Detectan dos casos de tuberculosis en cárcel La Modelo de Bogotá, 30 de agosto de 2012
5 RCN Radio, En al menos 20 días, se prolongará restricción de visitas en Cárcel Modelo
6 Caracol, Murió tercer preso que resultó quemado en incendio en cárcel de Bucaramanga, September 19, 2012 ; El Heraldo, Recluso
acuchillado y quemado había firmado pacto de convivencia, September 11, 2012
7 See: Noticias Caracol, Cárcel de Valledupar, sin agua y a punto de cierre, June 7, 2012; RCN Radio, Sin agua, la cárcel de La Mesa,
August 9, 2021; El País – Colombia, Cárcel de Jamundiì sin agua potable, July 20, 2012; Youtube - Noticias televisivas, Sin agua en 6
pabellones de cárcel el Pedregal de San Cristobal ; Caracol, Hay cárceles sin pisos y sin agua: Minjusticia, September 20, 2012
8 A/HRC/19/21/Add.3 Paragraph. 118, section d.
9 El Espectador, Denuncian continuos bloqueos para entrar en las cárceles colombianas, September 7, 2012. Between June and November
2012, more than 90 visits were denied to Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos – FCSPP.
Advocacy Papers for the 2013 Colombia’s Universal Periodic Review. For more information please
Colombia Diversa continues to document complaints from LGBTI inmates regarding: 1) prohibitions
and obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to conjugal visits for same sex couples, 2) punishments for
public displays of affection between same sex couples within the prison system, specially between
lesbians, and 3) illegal limitations to the right to express their gender identity, especially against
transgender persons10.
Prison authorities make a wrongful interpretation of the Constitutional Court Sentence T-622 of 2010.
It is believed that the sentence allows for disciplinary sanctions against lesbian couples for public
displays of affection in prisons (without having incurred in obscene acts). Disciplinary sanctions were
observed by public ministry official in El Pedregal prison in Medellin.
The Constitutional Court in Sentence T-062 of 2011 ordered the INPEC’s Director to “reform the
prison and jail system regulating norms to make them compatible with the protection of the
constitutional rights of the inmates with a diverse identity or different sexual preference”. To date the
INPEC has not comply with what was ordered in the Sentence and complaints about abuse against
LGBTI population are still being documented.
The Colombian State should:
1. Comply with the recommendations from international organizations; accept the ability of the
Committee against Torture to know about individual complaints; and to ratify and implement
the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
2. Colombia should eliminate confinement as a disciplinary punishment; guarantee the right to
health and access to drinking water on a permanent basis; investigate in a prompt and
independent manner all torture complaints as well as other cruel, inhumane and degrading
treatments in prisons and temporary detention centers.
3. Implement a criminal and prison policy in agreement with international human rights law, with
differential approach for LGBTI people, women, handicapped, indigenous, Afro-Colombians
and other vulnerable population deprived of their liberty.
4. Design a comprehensive health care and metal care system that would guarantee quality,
universality and continuity for health services; and implement programs in health care
prevention and protection for all the inmate population.
5. Through a public policy that limits the indiscriminate use of deprivation of liberty as
punishment, adopt effective measures to improve the prisons conditions, reduce overcrowding
and effectively respond to all of the fundamental needs of the inmate population.
Even though there are several Directives issued by the National Prison Institute (INPEC) that orders prison officials to respect the rights of
LGBTI people (especially Directive 011 of February 18, 2003 and the Permanent Directive 0010 of July 5, 2011), reports of abuse still persist,
evidencing the lack of compliance.
Advocacy Papers for the 2013 Colombia’s Universal Periodic Review. For more information please