Latin America & Caribbean

Cuba says prison population at more than 57,000

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More than 57,000 people are in jail in Cuba, according to a rare report about the prison population published by the Communist Party newspaper, Granma.

Granma said efforts had been made to improve conditions for the 57,337 inmates, and that 23,000 had prison jobs and were being paid.

Dissident groups have put the prison population between 70,00 and 100,000.

Granma's report came as a UN panel held a hearing on Cuba, including alleged degrading treatment of inmates.

The article in Granma said rehabilitation programmes were under way, with education and training being provided at all levels.

It noted that an investment plan running until 2017 aimed to improve prison infrastructure and improve living conditions for inmates.

About half of the inmates were in open jails, Granma said.

And the 23,000 prisoners who were working were being paid the same amount as other workers, the paper added.

Dissidents groups say prisoners are used to work for government-owned businesses but receive very little, if any, pay.

White collar crime

According to the official figures, some 10,000 prisoners have been released over the past six months, including 2,900 freed as a goodwill gesture over New Year.

These have included common criminals and political prisoners.

Image caption Members of the Ladies in White dissident group have been briefly held

There has been, however, a reported increase in the number of people jailed for corruption, with some reports speaking of 400 officials and managers jailed.

This suggests that the Cuban government now sees white collar crime as its main challenge, says BBC Mundo Havana correspondent Fernando Ravsberg.

The UN Committee Against Torture on Tuesday began a hearing into Cuba.

Issues raised included poor prison conditions, the use of solitary confinement, and "short" detentions where people were held usually for just 24 hours as a possible deterrent.

Cuba's Deputy Attorney General Rafael Pino Becquer told the hearing that Cuba was working to improve its prison system and that there had been no deaths in custody as a result of wrong-doing since 1997.

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