On Tuesday, Cuba's official Communist Party newspaper Granma gave an official estimate of the number of people currently incarcerated in the nation's jails: 57,337.
The article, titled Reinserción social centra labor de sistema penitenciario de Cuba, only mentioned the figure in passing. Its main focus was on Cuban prisons' success in providing professional and cultural re-integration programs for their inmates.
The government has been completely silent about its imprisoned population until now, leaving human rights organizations and opposition groups to fill in the blanks. Those outsider estimates of the incarcerated population have ranged anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 people, according to the BBC.
If Cuban officials are telling the truth, the country has fewer people in prison per capita than does the United States. But if opposition groups are correct, Cuba could top the global list for having the highest percentage of its population behind bars.
The Granma article comes on the same day that a United Nations panel convened in Geneva to discuss the Cuban jail system. Voicing concerns about prisoner abuse and suspicious deaths of political dissidents, a Committee Against Torture demanded more information from Cuban officials.
Inhumane Conditions In Cuba's Prisons
Former prisoners ... consistently describe deeply inhumane conditions in Cuba's prisons--from overcrowded cells to inadequate food and water, from poor medical treatment to a hazardous lack of hygiene, said José Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas Division of the organization Human Rights Watch, according to the Miami Herald.
The Granma article took pains to address these concerns, noting that Cuba's constitution forbids corporal punishment for prisoners and quotid a lawyer who claimed that no torture or mistreatment has taken place in Cuba's prisons since 1959. Respecting the physical well-being of prisoners is a basic principle of the island's prison system, the article said.
The article also claims that most of Cuba's prisoners are enrolled in educational or work programs.
A total of 27,095 inmates receive schooling at all levels of education, and 24,531 are integrated into skills-training programs on site or in specialized courses, it said, adding that those who work do so voluntary and receive a salary, standard wages, and social security benefits.
It was also claimed that more than 10,000 prisoners have been released over the last six months, including 130 political prisoners.