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

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...