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Massive jailbreaks in Mexico. Prison riots in Venezuela, and fires in Honduras. Latin America's prisons are overcrowded, out of control and ready to burst. In this in-depth series, GlobalPost goes inside some of the Americas' most violent prisons to investigate a correctional system that has gone horribly wrong.

Peru prison: from pot smoke to pottery class

There's nothing quite like Lurigancho, Peru’s largest prison, reputedly one of the toughest in South America. GlobalPost gets inside, and finds some surprises.

Jose Avila, head of the prisons program at the Defensoria del Pueblo, Peru’s official human rights ombudsman, says corruption pervades the prison system.

“Corruption is very serious because if you have alcohol, drugs, arms and other forbidden objects, as well as unauthorized people, entering a jail, it puts the entire prison population at risk,” he told GlobalPost.

Other woes highlighted by Avila include the fact that Peru’s prison population of 50,000 is roughly 70 percent more than the planned capacity of its 66 jails, with Lurigancho the most overcrowded of the lot.

Meanwhile, there are just 23 doctors to care for those prisoners. Predictably perhaps, the rate of TB among jail inmates is 20 times higher than outside.

Another problem is that the prisons authority, INPE, largely fails to meet its statutory obligation to provide opportunities for rehabilitation. The vast weaving and pottery workshops I saw were set up by a nonprofit group founded by a Catholic activist and funded by foreign aid.

According to the inmates, INPE has even attempted to shutter the workshops. Meanwhile, corrupt officials charge to let raw materials such as clay or wool into Lurigancho and finished products out to market.

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INPE declined GlobalPost’s request for an interview with its head, Jose Luis Perez.

In a country where many still live in grinding poverty, few are willing to argue for more resources for convicted criminals. Meanwhile, most fail to last long enough in Perez’s challenging job to make any real impact.

“There are always going to be escapes or a riot within the first few months of someone taking up the job,” Leonardo Caparros, a former acting head of INPE, told GlobalPost.

“There needs to be a political commitment to the president of INPE to give him time and protection. Otherwise some in the media will sensationalize what has happened, the president will lose his job and we will just be back to square one.” 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/peru/120513/lurigancho-prison-pot-smoke-pottery