Belfast Telegraph

Peruvian jail holding Michaella is notorious for overcrowding, anarchy and appalling conditions

By Catherine McCurry

Michaella McCollum Connolly is believed to be under arrest at the notoriously toughSanta Monica female prison in Peru, pending investigations by a local judge.

The prison sits on the arid edge of a slum, a short drive from the Peruvian capital.

It is common place for those arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking offences in South America to spend a lengthy time in custody before trial.

Overcrowding, anarchy and appalling conditions are just some of the features of the Peruvian prison system.

In Peru, it is estimated that there are 48,000 inmates in a system built for 28,000. Most of the inmates are convicted or suspected cocaine couriers.

Santa Monica de Chorrillos was built for just 230 prisoners, but holds much more than this – including some of the inmates' children. There is also a lack of segregation of inmates, with petty criminals mingling with those convicted of serious crime

Bribery, violence, poor sanitary conditions and a lack of basic inmate services such as running water and electricity are common place. Drugs and ill health are rife and the inmates' diet is said to consist of three servings of rice per day.

A recent report by Peru's national ombudsman described corruption as "institutionalised" within Peru's jails.

Across the prison system, prisoners often have to bribe guards for basic commodities such as food and mattresses. New inmates have been known to have to sleep on the floor with just a sheet.

In a report published earlier this year by the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, Peru has emerged as the world's largest producer of cocaine.

In a bid to curtail the escalating narcotics industry, politicians and newspapers in Peru regularly demand tougher sentences for those convicted of drug trafficking

An Irish cleric based in Peru has described the prison conditions facing the two women as "harsh and dangerous".

Archbishop Sean Walsh, who lives in Lima, said he has "grave fears" for the wellbeing of the 20-year-old Tyrone woman.

He said he now intends to visit the nightclub hostess in custody.

"I've no doubt she is both frightened and upset, as are her family," he said.

"I am now trying to gain permission to visit Michaella and help her in whatever way I can."

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