Written by Jose Rodrigues

Conditions in Venezuelan Prisons are harsh: personal integrity, access to sanitary assistance, a proper diet or even any sort of contact with the outside world (be that phone calls, emails or any other form of communication) range from poor to non-existent subject to where you are. 

I have been the Vice-Consul and Head of Consular Services at the British Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, since September 2015. Since the beginning of my appointment, I was made aware of the existence of Prisoners Abroad, their values, range of services and how they closely work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office assisting British citizens imprisoned overseas.

Being imprisoned in Venezuela poses a number of life-changing challenges as an individual. Although slowly improving, the prison infrastructure is dated and seriously limited: often crowded, lacking proper (or any) furnishings, with dated or non-existent infirmaries. They are often under-staffed and geographically segregated due to local communities’ not wanting to house such facilities in their neighbourhoods.

Local complex socio-economic circumstances, mainly the economic collapse of the country (hyperinflation, scarcity of basic food, medication or basic supplies) have also affected our prisoners’ conditions, as prisons have not escaped from the general deterioration in the overall quality of life for people in Venezuela.

The consular team in Caracas assists prisoners in a number of ways, from contacting relatives or friends to pass on messages, to providing consular visits and working on possible prisoner repatriations where possible. Prisoners Abroad’s range of services and help has made a real difference to our work and to our prisoners’ life in several aspects:

  • We rely heavily on PA’s Craig Feehan Fund (CFF), which provides survival grants for prisoners with no other financial support. Being imprisoned in Venezuela with no access to any financial assistance can mean not having access to sufficient food or any prison comforts such as basic toiletries. This can have significant physical and psychological consequences on an individual.

  • Prisoners Abroad’s medical fund, allows prisoners to cover the costs of essential medical treatment. Throughout my time as a Consular officer I have seen first-hand how being able to apply for funds for emergency medical treatment, that is either not available or is non-existent through public health systems, can effectively save or extend an individuals’ life. Prisoners Abroad has helped prisoners live longer and with more dignity.

  • The mental health of prisoners is often an invisible to the outside world. Their day-to-day life conditions can make it seriously difficult to remain positive and look towards the future. Our colleagues from Prisoners Abroad are fully aware of this. Their support to our prisoners through sending reading material, books, dictionaries, agility games, exercise sheets (yoga exercises are quite popular), amongst others, is extremely welcome and very much appreciated by the consular team and the individuals themselves. The contribution towards the mental health of our prisoners cannot be underestimated.  

Prisoners Abroad remain in constant contact with consular staff overseas on ongoing cases, placing particular emphasis on prisoner cases where the individual’s circumstances present him/her as vulnerable. This shows how willing they are to do more, where and when possible, for those most in need of help.  The professionalism of their staff, their resoluteness and dedication towards helping people survive imprisonment overseas with dignity and hope, is beyond measurable.

Prisoners Abroad remains an important partner for the FCO’s delivery of consular assistance for British citizens in need of help, and I certainly hope they continue their efforts to provide a lifeline for British citizens and their families during and after imprisonment overseas well into the future.