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Chile regrets the tragedy that 10 years ago revealed its precarious prison situation

Santiago de Chile, Dec 8 (EFE) .- On December 8, 2010, 81 inmates lost their lives during a fire in a prison in Santiago de Chile, a tragedy that revealed the precarious conditions of prisons in Latin America and that has taken this Tuesday to relatives of victims to demand justice ten years later. With flowers, candles and a solidarity lunch in front of the San Miguel jail, south of the capital, dozens of people among representatives of social organizations and relatives of the victims gathered to celebrate the deceased in a festive atmosphere and demand improvements in the prison conditions. “Ten years have passed since a state crime in which 81 people were burned and so far everything remains the same in prisons. It is unfortunate,” César Pizarro, brother of one of the affected prisoners and founder of the association, told Efe. of victims’ relatives 81 Reasons. That December 8, a dispute between several inmates caused the fire that spread to generate the worst prison accident in the history of Chile and the third fire with the most victims in the country. It was Wednesday, a prison visitation day, and many family members were queuing to enter the prison when they noticed the fire that affected the compound, with a capacity for 1,110 people but that housed 1,960. In a few minutes, a climate of panic and uncertainty was unleashed and many tried to force the bars to discover if their loved ones were among those affected by the fire, a situation that worsened with the delay of the firefighters, recalled Carlos Elgueta, another of the members of the association. “This is a tragedy that still has no criminal responsibility, and it is intended to silence with insufficient financial compensation,” he explained to Efe. TEN YEARS WITHOUT JUSTICE The Chilean Justice took ten years to give an answer to the families of the deceased and it was not until last November 18 that a ruling was released that obliges the State to pay a total compensation of 3.8 million pesos (more than 5 million dollars) to the relatives of the victims. The overcrowding under which the convicts lived, the lack of evacuation measures, the absence of a fire plan and a small number of officials in charge of the prison population are some of the causes of the disaster according to the sentence. The ruling points to the Chilean Gendarmerie as responsible for the episode, despite the fact that the eight agents and sentries present at the time of the fire were acquitted in 2014 of the charges of involuntary manslaughter and serious injuries. PRECARITY IN PRISONS The tragedy of the San Miguel prison was the first hit by the government of Sebastián Piñera, who had just started his first term (2010-2014) and who came to recognize in some controversial statements at the time that the Chilean prison system it is “an embarrassment to the whole country.” Data on prison overcrowding were not made public until 2019, when the Executive released the first report where it pointed out that in 2019 there were 41,977 inmates while the capacity of the prisons was 40,444, which implies an occupancy rate of 104% . For Olga Espinoza, an expert in criminology at the Institute of Public Affairs of the University of Chile, the national average of occupation hides “alarming” realities of overcrowding of prisoners in some establishments in the country. In addition, the academic added, there are other “highly worrying” situations in the Chilean prison situation, such as the high rate of criminal recidivism and the high murder rates among those convicted. “Having to serve a custodial sentence means that you have much greater probabilities than the rest of Chileans of being assassinated. It is unheard of,” the expert explained to Efe. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (Onudd), Chile, which has the lowest homicide rate in the region, is at the same time the country that registered the highest murder rate in Latin American prisons, 90 for every 100,000 prisoners. Patricia Nieto Mariño (c) EFE Agency

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