Venezuela plans 'to release 40% of prisoners'

Venezuelan national guards try to enter El Rodeo prison in Guatire on 20 June, 2011 The prison ministry was created after a month-long stand-off at Rodeo prison

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Venezuela says it could release up to 40% of inmates in an attempt to ease overcrowding in its prisons.

Newly-appointed Minister for Prisons Iris Varela said 20,000 people who had only committed minor crimes could be conditionally freed.

Ms Varela said those who posed no danger to society could serve their sentences outside the prison walls.

The announcement comes a month after more than 25 people were killed in deadly clashes at El Rodeo jail.

Ms Varela said that of "Venezuela's 50,000 inmates, 20,000 shouldn't be in jail".

The Minister said her office would start checking this week which of the inmates fulfilled the requisites for a conditional release.

"I want to promise the Venezuelan people that we won't let the wolves loose," she said.

"But there are people in our prisons who don't pose a danger for society, like those serving time for theft," she added.

Venezuelan prisons are notoriously overcrowded and there has been a series of riots since the beginning of the year.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says nearly 500 people died in prison violence last year.

More than 25 people died in clashes in Rodeo prison in Guatire, near the capital Caracas, over the past month after a group of inmates armed itself and fought fellow prisoners and national guards sent to restore order.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered the creation of the new ministry in the wake of the clashes and his government allocated almost $100m (£60.1m) to the task of reforming the prison sector.

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