New twist hurts Cocaine Cassie’s parole bid
Exclusive: Cocaine Cassie Sainsbury's upcoming bid for parole has been delayed by a series of scandals at the Colombian jail she has called home for more than two years.
A high profile prison-break on the back of a food poisoning outbreak and worsening corruption saw El Buen Pastor's chief ousted last week.
Sainsbury, who is also suffering undiagnosed health issues, had been due to begin the parole process by year's end, but her Bogota lawyer Orlando Herran said this was now postponed for an unknown period because the jail administration was "paralysed".
"You can't make this stuff up!" Mr Herran said of the crises.
Sainsbury will be due for parole once she has served three-fifths of the six year sentence she received for attempting to smuggle about 6kg of cocaine out of Colombia in April 2017.
With a seven-month good behaviour reduction and potential further four months off for working as a teacher in jail, she was due to apply for parole in December ahead of a planned April release.
But this has been scuppered by the jailbreak of former Colombian congresswoman Aida Merlano, whose escape out of a third floor window during a dentist appointment to get her teeth whitened was captured on CCTV, in the country's highest profile prison escape in a decade.
The corrupt politician served less than two weeks in El Buen Pastor after she was sentenced to 15 years of prison for buying votes during the 2018 general election.
"This convicted woman has made an unacceptable mockery of Colombian society, the justice system and the legal system," said Inspector General Fernando Carrillo.
Mr Herrán said Mérlano's escape was ''evidence of the corruption that inflicts the Colombian prison system, and the hierarchy that exists between inmates".
''Cassandra has been feeling very unwell. She's been experiencing quite a lot of pain with her digestion, and they haven't allowed her to see a specialist outside of the jail," Mr Herran said.
"This woman, however, was allowed to go out to get her teeth whitened as part of a cosmetic procedure called a 'smile design'. You can't make this stuff up!''
The escape was the latest incident in a series of scandals and crises that have rocked El Buen Pastor (The Good Shephard), which houses 2,208 inmates.
Late last month, inmates filed a complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights denouncing "inhuman and degrading" treatment, overcrowding, ''deplorable, rotting'' food and precarious facilities inside the jail that violate the rights of those imprisoned.
The letter also reveals that inmates were subjected to threats and intimidation on behalf of IMPEC guards when they tried to denounce the conditions inside the jail.
''Inside the jail the saying goes: 'Here you have to pray to God not to get sick, because if you do they'll only treat you if you're dying'," said the group.
Colombia's Heath Ministry also closed the prison kitchen for 48-hours after finding 120kg of decomposing chicken.
Mr Herran said Ms Sainsbury "was worried about the number of people getting ill. Fortunately, Cassie wasn't affected but has said that two-weeks on, the situation hasn't improved much.''
According to the district human rights watchdog, Personería de Bogotá, at least 100 inmates suffered food poisoning.
A prison official who would not be named said: "It's chaos at the moment in here. People are pointing fingers and heads are rolling".
"I'm lost for words to describe how bad it is.''
The incidents forced the cancellation of the jail's annual beauty pageant.
''The disappointment of the female inmates is palpable, but health and safety must come first,'' said the same official. At the annual Beauty Pageant inmates dress up and compete for prizes in the manner of Miss Colombia or Miss World. One woman from each of the seven sectors - or patios - of the prison participate to represent their sector in the pageant while the rest of the inmates watch on.
But beyond the cancellation of the beauty pageant, Mr Herran said the prison crisis would have other negative impacts on Ms Sainsbury and her case.
''All of this attention obviously has an impact. Guards are cracking down and the conditions inside will become stricter," he said.
"It will also likely affect her chance of getting parole anytime soon. Everything has become paralysed and these individual cases get pushed back as (private jail administrator) IMPEC goes into crisis-management mode.''