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Mission Monday: A Look Into Bolivia’s Prison System


Each week, lay missioner Jeff Sved visits six prisons in Cochabamba, Bolivia, through his ministry with Pastoral Penitenciaria, an organization looking out for the basic needs of those in Bolivian prisons. Here is something he has observed during his visits.

“Lo único que pedimos es que cumplan lo que manda la ley”
“All that we ask is that you do what the law commands.”

Great advice from any judge or advisor to an inmate incarcerated for breaking the law. However, coming from an inmate as a request to the judges, prosecutors, and public defenders, it may seem a bit odd. Aren’t they the people charged with upholding the integrity of these laws?

But this is exactly the request verbalized in a series of signs posted outside the prisons by a group of inmates seeking to educate the general public about the realities within the prison and within the criminal justice system.

One of the main focuses of the signs is the topic of preventivos/preventivas, or detainees, those held while awaiting trials.

Yes, the overwhelming majority of those currently incarcerated are awaiting their sentencing. And yes, it can, and usually does, take years for the legal system to run its course. And though legally your case is supposed to be dismissed if you haven’t been tried within the first three years of incarceration, there are a significant number of inmates still waiting after four or five years.

I learned a lot from seeing these signs posted outside the prisons, and from the conversations they sparked. I hope they are both enlightening and thought-provoking for you just as they were for me. If you have questions about the prisons or the workings of the legal system in Cochabamba please post them below in the comment section, or email me at jeffsved@gmail.com.

Though, I’m still learning every day about the prisons here and am far from an expert, I’d love to do a Q and A blog post to touch on a wider variety of topics related to the realities within the prisons here, and to further explain what I’ve already mentioned.

I’m looking forward to hearing your questions!

Jeff Sved served in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from 2013-2016. His main ministry was working with inmates in seven prisons throughout Cochabamba.

Prior to joining FMS he served in Wilmington, Del., with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry teaching math in a prison and teaching English to members of the Latino community. Originally from Pittsburgh, Penn., and a graduate of Villanova University.