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Last Updated: Friday, 14 September 2007, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
El Salvador addresses jail crisis
By Will Grant
BBC News, Miami

Inmates at Apanteos jail, El Salvador after a riot in January 2007
Riots frequently break out in El Salvador's jails
El Salvador's government has presented a bill to parliament to free hundreds of older inmates and prisoners with terminal illnesses from jail.

The changes, which would not apply to those serving time for murder and other violent crimes, aim to deal with the huge problem of prison overcrowding.

Nearly 17,000 inmates are housed in a prison system designed for just 7,000.

Given these figures, many Salvadoreans say measures to tackle overcrowding in the jails are long overdue.

The public security and justice minister, Rene Figueroa, said the bill presented to parliament - to grant conditional releases to qualifying prisoners - would help ease the pressure in at least 18 of the country's penal institutions.

But violent crime is a long-standing problem in El Salvador and powerful drug gangs operate across the country.

As such, the head of the country's penal system was quick to point out that the measure would not apply to all inmates and excluded those in jail for murder or other violent crimes.

In order to qualify, older and infirm inmates will also have to show evidence of good behaviour during their prison terms.

The government estimates that as many as 1,500 inmates could benefit from the proposal.

However, with police also trying to target the drug gangs, the country's prison overcrowding problem is still one of the worst in Latin America.

El Salvador jail rioters kill 21
07 Jan 07 |  Americas
El Salvador swoops on street gang
13 Jul 06 |  Americas
Gang life tempts Salvador teens
24 Jan 05 |  Americas
Country profile: El Salvador
13 Jul 07 |  Country profiles
In figures: Latin America's prisons
16 Nov 05 |  Special Reports

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