How Many People in Cuba Are Behind Bars?

The Cuban Statistics Office, ONE, gives no figures on imprisoned Cubans.

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 27 — I’m going to have to subscribe to Cuba’s official Granma newspaper, because it makes me think, look for information, laugh and cry.

On December 19, it published an anonymously written article with the sensational title “Crime Increasing Among US Youth.” This article stated that a third of the young people in that country had been arrested at some time, according to a study published in the New York Times.

The people at Granma must have a lot of nerve. Arrests? So what! I’m going to do a quick tabulation: I live in a building of military families in a relatively good neighborhood. Of the 37 males born here, 12 (or 32 percent) have not only been arrested, but are serving long prison terms.

Does that sound like a lot? Right next door to me lives a bus driver whose kids have broken all of our justice system records. “Tales of the tank” (jailhouse anecdotes) are a prolific genre in our community.

But I don’t pay too much attention to any of that; one block doesn’t necessarily represent a nation. Let’s go to the official statistics to see what they say. What do the official figures say about the prison population in Cuba?

I can’t say because I don’t know. I’ve researched it but I haven’t found any information. The National Statistics Office (ONE) says nothing about it. There are a few pages that explain the Cuban prison system in detail and its many accomplishments – but no figures.

The only statistics I could find came from “enemy” sources (the World Prison Population List, published by the International Centre for Prison Studies and updated through 2008).

According to the study, Cuba had 531 people in prison per every 100,000 inhabitants, ranking fifth in a list led by the US. The data of the prison population here on the island was not supplied by the government of “our” country, which in the style of North Korea denies access to that information.

But let’s say the figures are indeed distorted, and that we’re not in fifth place but in fiftieth. This would still be alarming; worthy of the media making this information public and for a national debate around the issue.

However the Communist Party Central Committee chooses to divert attention by firing derringers at the empire, while our roofs are falling down on top of us. Sure, they’re not falling down on them.

4 thoughts on “How Many People in Cuba Are Behind Bars?

  • Erasmo start thinking like myself, today we are better of than yesterday, or when you look back the last 50 years this year is a golden year with 5-6 Decree implemented and put to work for normal Citizen it is a considerable plus. If the New Year has similar improvement we will look at the end of next year and smile all over our faces.

  • Compared with nearby nations, where violence seems to be spiraling out of control, Cuba is relatively placid. Once the lid blows off, however, it too, like Mexico, may become the scene of chaos. Still, real statistics, rather than rhetoric, are what are needed in order to discover trends and set priorities. I would expect in my own country, as a result of the increasing disparity between the few “winners” and the many “loosers,” that crime stats will increase, though here siuch increases will be used to justify additional repressive measures. In the end, however, the ruling elites have much to fear from the many who have nothing left to loose (but their miserable lives).

  • Yes, government transparency is both wise and prudent in these days of Wikipedia. I just read several articles about the prisoner release in Western newspapers and they quote various sources estimating that Cuba’s prison population is about 70 to 80,000. With a population of 12 million, this is a little over .5 percent, or one out of 160, or 6.7 per thousand, where as the US may has more than 2,400,000 prisoners with a population of 311,000,000. That is at least one out of 137 or as the Times reports below, one out of 100!

    Oh, the last time thousands were released by the US President? And releasing prisoners for health reasons? Both of these are just about never in the US unless you count prisoners of war. So unwise to compare to the US or think that lots of statistics necessarily provides greater freedom.

    The New York Times, the paper of record in the US stated in 2008, “The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.) The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England’s rate is 151; Germany’s is 88; and Japan’s is 63.”

  • I consider the International Centre for Prison Studies a highly credible source. It is independent of all governments and does not receive government funding.

    Cuba is one of the few countries in the world that does not publish statistics on its criminal justice system (including its prison population). The best way to respond to ICPS estimates would be for Cuba to begin reporting these statistics itself.

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