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Plan Colombia: a successful long-term effort. (NIC Update).

Since 1990, when the International Division was established within the National Institute of Corrections, NIC has provided correctional assistance to 87 different countries. To this day, Plan Colombia has been NIC's most extensive, long-term effort. In 2000, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and NIC were asked to provide assistance through a partnership among the U.S. departments of Justice and State and the Colombian Prison Service.

NIC's first priority was to work with the Colombian Ministry of Justice and its Prison Service to identify NIC's strengths and weaknesses and establish the priorities. For the first two years, the primary concerns were facility design, prison security, staff training, and the development and implementation of prison policies and procedures. In the future, NIC will be expanding its plans to provide assistance to the Colombian prison industry and other work programs, including assistance in the areas of drug treatment and inmate programming.

The Colombian Prison Service

The Colombian Prison Service is a national system that includes both jails and prisons. There are approximately 56,000 inmates and 10,000 staff members within the system. New construction and remodeling of existing facilities are accomplished by the Colombian National Prison Construction Agency. This agency is a separate entity within the Colombian government. Initially, there were more than 185 facilities. Today, there are 155 facilities, with more than 15 new facilities scheduled to be built in the future. As these new facilities are activated, several of the smaller ones will close.

The Colombian Prison Service also has its own training academy, which develops and conducts new employee training, specialty training, and training for supervisory and management personnel. The professionalism of the staff at the training academy, coupled with the training provided, continues to be a catalyst for change within the prison system. The academy has recently begun to expand its services by offering training programs to other Latin American countries as well.

Another priority was to upgrade the safety and security of inmates currently in Colombia who are facing extradition to the United States. As a result, NIC offered technical assistance for upgrading the level of security in the facilities, prison policies and procedures, and staff training.

NIC was asked to help bring the facility at Valledupar online with the Colombian Prison Service. The facility at Valledupar was built on a modified design of the U.S. federal facilities in Coleman, Fla. It can house up to 1,600 inmates and is operated by 360 staff members. Concepts of unit management and direct supervision have been incorporated into the prison operations. Prison policies and procedures were developed, approved and implemented, and staff received extensive training.

The Colombian government contracted for an independent, international management assessment of its prison operations. The International Standards Organization-9000 review evaluated the organization's compliance with its stated missions, goals, objectives, policies and procedures. Valledupar was the first organizational component to undergo ISO-9000 assessment. This past July, the president of Colombia and the Colombian minister of justice received certification that Valledupar had passed this evaluation.

Achieving ISO-9000 certification at the Valledupar facility has had a positive impact on prison staff and on the image of the Colombian Prison Service within the country. The facility at Valledupar was the first facility to receive certification. The Colombian Prison Service's Central Office and National Prison Construction Agency are in the ISO-9000 assessment process. Several facilities will begin the certification process in the near future.

During NIC's technical assistance effort with Colombia, it has received excellent cooperation from the departments of Justice, the Treasury, State and with co-workers at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota. This cooperation has allowed NIC to achieve greater effectiveness than would otherwise have been possible.

A great achievement for NIC is its working relationship with the Colombian Prison Service and its highly professional staff. It is this relationship that has been most instrumental in exchanging correctional information and ideas.

Guillermo Rivera is a special liaison to the Colombian Prison Service for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. William Wilkey is chief of the International Division for the National Institute of Corrections.
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Author:Rivera, Guillermo; Wilkey, William
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:3COLO
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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