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Chile to revamp prison system to beat overcrowding, firearms traffic

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Prisoner signals "thumbs-up" after a fire spread through the San Miguel prison killing more than 80 south of Santiago, Chile on December 8, 2010. A fire was set during a riot in a prison that holds 1,900 but was built for 700. UPI/Sebastian Padilla | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/6d0ac0f3e9de5c28ef98083625defa0c/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Prisoner signals "thumbs-up" after a fire spread through the San Miguel prison killing more than 80 south of Santiago, Chile on December 8, 2010. A fire was set during a riot in a prison that holds 1,900 but was built for 700. UPI/Sebastian Padilla | License Photo

SANTIAGO, Chile, April 19 (UPI) -- Chile will revamp its nationwide prison network to address key security issues and remove overcrowding, following President Sebastian Pinera's pledge to reform what he called an inhumane system that killed more than 80 inmates in one incident last year.

The Ministry of Justice said it contracted U.S. firm Altegrity Security Consulting to provide assessment and adviser services as part of the planned prison restructuring program.

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A fire blamed on overcrowding at the San Miguel prison in Santiago killed at least 80 inmates last December, making it the country's deadliest prison incident. Chile's prisons are bedeviled by frequent riots, drug and firearms trafficking, security breaches and fires resulting from congestion-related incidents.

The San Miguel prison fire erupted during a fight between rival gangs who set mattresses alight. Critics said overcrowding was to blame and Fundacion Paz Ciudadana, a non-profit foundation concerned with citizens' issues, said the prison had 1,654 inmates against an approved capacity of 892.

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The prison fire raised key security issues and critics cited risks of trafficking in firearms and other weapons.

Pinera reacted to the blaze with a pledge to reform the prison system.

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"We cannot keep living with a prison system which is absolutely inhumane," he said. "We are going to speed up the process to ensure our country has a humane, dignified prison system that befits a civilized country."

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ASC said under terms of its contract the company will oversee the management of the construction of four model prison facilities. These include two dorm-style 2,500-bed minimum-security prisons, one combined maximum- and minimum-security facility and a reception and classification center that includes approximately 500 beds.

The team will produce an Operations Manual using best practices and will work with the Chilean Gendarmeria to review and revise their training curriculum.

"The Chilean government is committed to creating and establishing a prison management process and structure that will perpetuate self reliance, positive growth, and continual development of a strong corrections organization and we are committed to helping them make that a reality," ASC President Michael Berkow said.

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The company will work with the Chilean Ministries of Justice and Public Works, building on its international experience with providing best practice solutions that assist nations in the fields of correctional system infrastructure and operations.

ASC experts are working with Chilean officials in the government and the Gendarmeria.

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Altegrity has headquarters in Falls Church, Va., and employs about 11,000 people in 30 countries.

In March a Chilean court ordered three prison guards held on negligent homicide charges for the deaths of 66 of the 81 inmates who died at the San Miguel prison.

Five senior officers including former prison Director Carlos Bustos Hoffman were charged with manslaughter.

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