Van Der Sloot Faces Long Wait in Desolate Peruvian Prison System

Dutch playboy could land in one of world's harshest prisons.

June 17, 2010, 10:50 AM

June 17, 2010— -- Charged in the strangling death of a young Peruvian woman last month, Joran van der Sloot, the Dutch playboy also suspected of killing Alabama teen Natalee Holloway five years ago in Aruba, is awaiting trial in a desolate Peruvian prison.

After he was hustled out of a Lima courthouse last week through an angry mob shouting, "You're a killer" and "an assassin," van der Sloot, 22, has been held at the primitive Miguel Castro Castro prison, 40-minutes outside the capital city.

Former inmates at the medieval-dungeon-like Castro Castro told "20/20" they have little access to water or food.

One former inmate, Willie Ruiz, who said he was falsely accused of being a terrorist, spent 5 1/2 years there.

"We were crowded into a cell and kept there for 23 1/2 hours a day," he said. "There was a hole in the ground that we used as a toilet. It was atrocious."

Built for 1,000 inmates, Castro Castro holds nearly twice that number today, and former inmates say they control an underground economy where cash can buy just about anything.

"(P)rostitutes, alcohol, drugs," Ruiz said. "Even take-out food.

"You can even buy weapons, '' he added. "Not just knives but also guns ... and bullets. It happens all the time."

Recently a cache of weaponry, including guns and knives, was confiscated at the prison.

Prison officials admit that violence and corruption are serious problems in their jails, for which they blame overcrowding and a lack of resources.

Van der Sloot, who officials say is frightened and depressed, requested isolation at Castro Castro and, according to The Associated Press, is sharing a cell block with a reputed Colombian hit man.

If convicted, things may get worse for van der Sloot, who was raised in Aruba.

He could be sent to the notorious San Juan de Lurigancho men's prison, described by one prominent Peruvian attorney as "Dante's Inferno."

"It is hell in there,'' said Sandro Monteblanco, a prominent Peruvian attorney. "I mean you hear people talk about Turkish prisons and what not, or prisons in the Middle East, I think they use those analogies, those examples, because they haven't been to a Peruvian prison."

Fear of Prison Justice for Van Der Sloot

Peru's prisons, he said, deserve a "whole new metaphor."

Singled out for its overcrowding problem in a human rights report by the U.S. Department of State released earlier this year, Lurigancho now has nearly 10,000 inmates crammed into facilities that were meant to house 2,500, according to prison officials.

Considered one of the harshest prisons in the world, Lurigancho is filthy and dangerous, and filled with gangs.

A 2008 National Geographic documentary looked at life inside Lurigancho, depicting massive overcrowding in the prison, where inmates are forced to live with violence, hunger and filth. The conditions are so grim that Lurigancho's 21 cell blocks have periodically exploded into open civil war.

On one day alone, in 1986, 124 prisoners died.

Only 100 guards oversee the entire population, which means that while the prison guards maintain control of the perimeter of the prison, and protect its gates, the inmates control much of the inside of the prison, according to the documentary.

Attorney Michael Griffith, senior partner at International Legal Defense Counsel, who represents Americans imprisoned overseas and has counseled clients in over 40 countries, has been inside Lurigancho.

"Lurigancho is the worst prison I have ever been in, hands down,'' he said. "While I was talking to my client, 10 feet away from me, one prisoner stabbed another prisoner."

In Lima, where just 64 defense lawyers handle 16,000 cases, average wait time before trial is more than four years. Trials, by a panel of judges -- there are no jury trials in Peru -- often last more than a year.

If convicted, van der Sloot may have more to worry about than where he serves. The killing of Stephany Flores Ramirez has touched a nerve among Peruvians, and some have suggested the very real possibility of prison justice.

"I think they gonna have to have some sort of surveillance over him, to keep people from getting to him,'' Monteblanco said.

Those who knew Flores Ramirez have little sympathy for what could await van der Sloot in prison.

"I expect from them to at least give him a life sentence, but, I'm pretty sure he's going to get killed before that,'' said Stephanie Jimenez, a close friend of the victim. "Because that's jail and he's going to pay for it. And, who knows what else they're going to do to him. And, you know what? He deserves it."

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