An inmate at San Miguel prison in Santiago in 2010

A recent report by Chile's judiciary has deplored the dangerous and inhumane conditions of prisons in Chile, highlighting concern over overcrowding, a problem that plagues prisons across Latin America.

The report (pdf) -- the result of a commission created by the Santiago Court of Appeals -- involved visits to 13 prisons in Chile. It describes poor conditions for prison staff, lack of adequate medical and nutritional services, and structural issues such as "irregular electrical installations" that pose a threat to inmates in some prisons.

In some instances, the report noted that inmates wait as many as 17 hours between meals or are forced to eat frozen or semi-frozen food.

The report also notes that overcrowding continues to be a problem in some prisons, having found cases in which as many as 14 inmates live in a space no larger than eight square meters.

InSight Crime Analysis

Overcrowded prisons are something of an epidemic in Latin America, a phenomenon which is tied to the number of pre-trial detainees in each country. Chile is tied with Colombia in terms of having one of the highest prison population rate in South America, at 242 inmates for every 100,000 people. Some 30 percent of Chile's prison population is being held in pre-trial detention.

Chile was forced to confront the issue of inhumane, crowded prison conditions in 2010, when 81 inmates died in a fire in Santiago's San Miguel prison, the deadliest prison incident in the country's history. However, as implied by the recent judiciary report, since then Chile has failed to appropriately address the problem, with the prison occupancy rate remaining about 111 percent. 

SEE ALSO:  InDepth: Prisons

Overcrowding is not the only problem within the region's prison systems. Corruption and abuse perpetrated by prison officials is common as well.

Using LEASUR (Litigación Estructural para América del Sur) data, El Confidencial reported that complaints against prison guards -- referred to as the Gendarmerie in Chile -- totaled 76 in 2014. According to LEASUR, 58 percent of those complaints were not investigated, and the remaining 42 percent resulted in few consequences for guards found to have committed abuse.

Chilean non-governmetal organization 81 Razones, created after the San Miguel disaster, is dedicated to reporting abuse that occurs in Chile's prisons and disputes the official number of complaints reported. César Pizarro, a founder of the group, said he receives around 30 calls a day from inmates, many of which are reports of abuse by the Gendarmerie.

Investigations

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