Friday, February 13, 2015

My Home is My Prison?

Send them home? Crowded inmates in
prison in Santa Marta. (Photo: El Espectador)
Home confinement, or 'casa por carcel,' is a sensible policy for reducing crowding in Colombia's packed prisons and making punishment more humane for non-violent criminals not likely to re-offend.

However, in at least some recent cases, it's turned into a get-out-of-jail free ticket used by the rich and well-connected to avoid punishment.

At its best, home confinement is a troubled system in Colombia. According to a recent report in El Tiempo, the police are so short-handed that they can visit criminals' homes only once a month or so to make sure they're actually staying there. So, instead, they often just call home telephone numbers - a dubious strategy since relatives' voices may sound similar. (And how many of those convicts turn out to be at home, but just can't come to the phone due to sudden cases of severe constipation?)

The prison system does have several thousand ankle bracelets. But these evidently can be violated, and El Tiempo reports cases in which police have discovered bracelets on the ankles of pet dogs.

And then there are the dubious legal claims about supposed medical problems and being fathers of families, with which vicious criminals have won home detention from suspiciously cooperative judges.

Convicted narcotrafficker and money launderer Marco Antonio Gil, el 'Papero, is now doing time in his luxurious apartment in north Bogotá.
Several recent cases have brought attention to how the policy can be abused:

One is of Inocencio Meléndez, an ex-subdirector of Bogotá's Urban Development Institute (IDU), now in home detention serving a seven-year sentence for corruption. On December 25, two agents of the National Prisons Institute (INPEC) visited his house and rang the doorbell twice without response. The recorded a violation, but Meléndez claims he was there the whole time sleeping. His loyal doorman supports his version of events.

Another is the case of narcotrafficker Marco Antonio Gil, el 'Papero,' who was captured in 2013 and confessed to narcotrafficking, money laundering and illegal enrichment. According to authorities, Gil had been trafficking drugs since the early 1980s. For all that, he was sentenced to only six years in prison. And after serving less than two years and receiving credit for helping in the prison kitchen and doing cleaning work, this week Gil was released to 'serve' the rest of his time in his luxurious apartment in north Bogotá.

Ernesto Manzanera in court. 
But the case which has generated the most ire recently is that of Ernesto Manzanera, 24, a co-pilot with Avianca who according to police was speeding down Bogotá's Autopista Norte early in the morning of Aug. 2 when he slammed into the rear of a car carrying the Carmen family, who were rushing their father to the hospital. All four members of the Carmen family were killed. Manzanera fled the scene in a taxi and turned himself in to police only 12 hours later, when any evidence of drugs or alcohol would have been gone from his system.

Despite the killings and Manzanera's subsequent behavior, judges have awarded him home detention while he awaits trial.

Like so many things in Colombia, the law seems to apply only to 'los de ruana' (the poor people).

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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