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IDB approves $75 million to support reform of criminal justice system in Venezuela

The Inter-American Development Bank today announced the approval of a $75 million loan to Venezuela to support a reform of the criminal justice system to improve equity, efficiency and transparency.

The financing will provide resources for implementing the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1999 that changes the previous written trial system to an oral model as part of a modernization process.

The IDB program emphasizes training to help meet the new demands that the 1999 Code makes on police investigators, prosecutors, judges, public defenders, prison officials and rehabilitation officers.

The Code also makes new demands on citizens — asking that they appear as witnesses during trials and participate as jurors on panels with judges. To help meet this challenge, the IDB financing also gives a priority to civic education about rights and responsibilities of citizens in the criminal justice system.

The financing improves mechanisms by which citizens can initiate complaints as victims of crime, and it also expands mechanisms through which citizens can lodge complaints about investigations and conduct of police and prosecutors. It will also fund activities of civil society organizations that assist with the rehabilitation of offenders and their job placement in work-release programs.

The Attorney General’s Office* will be supported in completing an ongoing effort to resolve backlogged cases — instances in which citizens have filed a criminal complaint without the case being brought to trial or resolved.

Prosecutors will also receive training to help them carry out their new responsibilities under the law, which assigns them the role of preparing cases, supervising the investigative process and presenting the case to the judge. This training aims at reducing the large number of cases that are either returned by the courts or thrown out because of poor preparation.

The resources will finance the expansion of a rehabilitation program that Venezuela has carried out for many years, emphasizing reintegration of former prisoners into society and the local economy. Among other investments, residential centers will be built and equipped to house parolees.

The financing will allow the Judicial Police Force Technical Corps to adopt a strategic planning process, internal oversight systems, a technology modernization plan and a public information plan. The regional and central offices will be rehabilitated, and police officers will be trained in criminal investigation and forensic medicine with the goal of reducing the number of unsolved criminal cases.

The program is designed to reduce violence and heighten respect for human rights and due process in Venezuelan prisons. The government of Venezuela will make infrastructure improvements and hire more personnel in prisons in order to reduce violence and improve living conditions. Subsequently, the IDB financing will support construction of areas for visitors and family members to meet with the prisoners, workshops where job skills will be taught, hospital and nursing centers and recreational spaces.

The corrections system will be equipped with a modern information system to permit better prison administration and greater access to information by the public.

"What is significant about this project is its integral approach — dealing with multiple issues in several different agencies — and its focus on social aspects of criminal justice, such as prisoner rehabilitation and the building of citizens’ confidence in the system," said IDB Project Team Leader Raimundo Arroio.

The total cost of the program is $132 million. The IDB loan is for a 20-year term, with a 5.5-year grace period, at the variable annual interest rate, now 6.97 percent. Local counterpart funds total $57 million.

The project will be carried out by the Ministry of Interior and Justice and the Attorney General’s Office.* It will complement projects financed for Venezuela by the World Bank and the Spanish government to reform and improve the criminal justice system.

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