La Reforma prison in Alajuela. Photo for illustrative purposes
La Reforma prison in Alajuela. Photo for illustrative purposes

(QCOSTARICA) Six doctors for every 4.984 prisoners in the country’s five most overcrowded prisons is the word from the Defensora de los Habitantes (Ombudswoman), Montserrat Solano.

The Ombudswoman made her complaint to the Ministerio de Justicia* (Ministry of Justice) public Wednesday afternoon, in asking authorities to make improvements to the prison health system.

“We have received an increasing number of complaints in recent years about the care provided to inmates in health services. This service is independent of the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS),” said Solano.

The Ombudswoman’s report details the suffering by prisoners who are in the care of few doctors. Solano cites the example of a case of a prisoner who has been suffering from nose bleeds at San Jose’s San Sebastian jail, who is not getting proper attention, including from a medical staff at state hospitals who told him “I will not help criminals”.

The man filed an action of “habear corpus” with the Constitutional Court to force prison officials to provide him access to proper medical services for a serious medical problem in his nose, the source of the bleeding, causing by a injury sustained in prison.

The Ombudswoman noted the prisons with a lack of medical staff are the San Carlos (with one doctor per 791 prisoners); San Sebastian, (one per 1.213); Cartago (one per 536); Pococí (one for 1.313); and Perez Zeledon (one for 1.131).

Noted is that the doctors only work from Monday to Friday.

Defending the situation is Reynaldo Villalobos, head of Adaptacion Social, who says the Ebais (clinics around the country run by the CCSS) use the ratio of one doctor for every 5.000 inhabitants, while the 14.000 inmates in the country’s jails have at their disposal 22 doctors or one for 636.

However, for the Ombudswoman, the number of doctors for each medical centre is insufficient for patient care, especially when there is overcrowding.


* In Costa Rica, the Ministry of Justice runs the prison system, while it is the Poder Judicial, a branch of the Ministerio Público de Costa Rica, who runs the courts and legal process. The subject is often an item of debate among North Americans living and/or visiting Costa Rica.

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