Around 1,000 family members of prisoners in two jails near Caracas are presumably being kept from leaving by inmates protesting delays in their trials and threats of even more repressive treatment, human rights groups said Tuesday.

The director of the group A Window on Freedom, Carlos Nieto, and the head of the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, or OVP, Humberto Prado, told Efe that no one has been able to leave the Yare I and Yare II lockups after inmates and their families spent the New Year's holiday together.

"Around 1,000 visitors, some being held by force and other remaining voluntarily - so this is not entirely a case of kidnapping - remained after their overnight stay together with the 1,900 prisoners at Yare I and Yare II, who later allowed old people and women with babies to leave," Nieto said.

Both activists said the prisoners and their families demanded the immediate presence of Penitentiary Service Minister Iris Varela to negotiate an end to the crisis.

Since President Hugo Chávez created the Penitentiary Service Ministry on July 26, Varela has visited all the jails in the country to learn the exact judicial status of all prisoners.

The incident comes after five prisoners accused of rape and other sexual offenses against minors were murdered in their cells last Tuesday by other inmates at a prison in the western state of Tachira.

The OVP said at the end of last year that from Jan. 1 to Oct. 30, 2011, 487 prisoners died in jails and detention centers around the country, exceeding the 476 who were killed in 2010.

The Venezuelan penitentiary system is undergoing a serious crisis as a result of court delays and overcrowding that affects 34 jails in the country with 44,520 prisoners behind bars, though they were built for no more than 14,500. 

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