Bolivia prison inmates protest at closure plan

Inmates and their children --who also live there-- inside the San Pedro prison in La Paz on February 3, 2008 The government plans to begin the closure of the prison on 18 July

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Inmates at Bolivia's biggest prison have said they are protesting against government plans to close the jail.

They said they should instead be helped to integrate back into society.

Bolivia's prison service said shutting down San Pedro prison in La Paz would put an end to "cocaine trafficking and other abuses" carried out by prisoners.

The decision follows allegations that a 12-year-old girl became pregnant inside the jail after being repeatedly raped by her imprisoned father and other men.

'No proof'

But a spokesman for the prisoners, Ever Quilche, denied the rape and said the girl was "fine".

"There is no proof that the girl was raped, mistreated or touched," he told the BBC.

"We are waiting for medical tests so that we can deny the allegation."

Start Quote

We cannot control the police. They have orders to stop drugs and alcohol from entering the prison, but to no avail”

End Quote Ramiro Llanos Head of Bolivia's prison service

The girl, who ha been taken into care, was among several hundred children with no alternative but to live in the San Pedro jail while their relatives serve their sentences.

The minors share living space with violent criminals including murderers, rapists, gang members and drug dealers.

"We have been abandoned and we don't know what to do if the jail closes," Mr Quilche complained.

"We need jobs and education so that we can be reintegrated into society."

'Enough with the abuses'

But the head of the prison service, Ramiro Llanos, said the alleged rape was "the straw that broke the camel's back".

"We have had enough of abuses being committed inside the jail," he told the BBC.

"We cannot control the police. They have orders to stop drugs and alcohol from entering the prison, but to no avail.

"So we will close down the prison altogether."

Mr Llanos explained that no more criminals will be imprisoned there from 18 July, and those already inside will be relocated or released in the next few years.

Originally intended to house around 600 inmates, San Pedro prison now has more than 2,400 prisoners.

Correspondents say the operation of the jail, in central La Paz, has been the subject of constant criticism for its poor infrastructure and overcrowding.

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