Humberto Prado is director of the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, which works to improve the disastrous conditions in Venezuela’s jails. As a former inmate Prado works to provide prisoners with life-skills, improve training for prison guards, and increase public awareness of prison conditions. Prado’s efforts to inform prisoners of their rights and fight corruption in the prison system have earned him the enmity of the Venezuelan government and necessitated an order from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights demanding his continued safety. Click here to read the liveblog from Prado's 2012 talk.


Imprisoned at the age of 18, Prado used his experience with sports and sports reporting to organize teams and tournaments with fellow inmates. The success of his efforts earned him a presidential pardon and a position as the National Institute of Sports’ coordinator of sports within prisons. While developing sports programs, Prado finished his high school degree and began studying law. When he was subsequently hired as a prison director, Prado trained inmates to grow their own food and provide food services for the prison as a way of both improving conditions and preparing them for life after release. He combatted rampant corruption by instituting new training programs for guards and improving financial incentives for honest employees.

Based on this work, Prado helped found the Venezuelan Prison Observatory, a group that monitors and seeks to improve prison conditions while raising awareness of the problems inside prisons among the general public. Venezuelan prisons are among the most violent and deadliest in the world. Key problems include horrific violence, widespread corruption, and severe overcrowding. Riots regularly take place, and the country's prisons—built to hold approximately 12,500 prisoners—hold nearly 50,000 inmates. In 2011, there were over 500 inmate deaths inside Venezuelan prisons and overcrowding of 360%.