Report Sheds Light on Troubled Latin American Prisons

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A GlobalPost report sheds light on the crisis in Latin America’s prisons, highlighting several alarming trends in prisons throughout the region.

The in-depth series — which includes stories from five countries, an interactive map on overcrowding and graphics –covers the problem in places like Rio de Janeiro, where space to confine prisoners is so limited that authorities are increasingly using abandoned warehouses and old buses as holding pens.

The news site further highlights overcrowding in Central American prisons, a problem which gained in notoriety after the February prison fire in Honduras. It also highlights the way in which the lack of adequate police control over penitentiaries in Peru, Venezuela and Mexico contributes to violence and corruption.

InSight Crime Analysis

The report comes on the heels of an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) report that documented widespread human rights violations in the region’s prisons. According to the IACHR, much of the problem has its roots in overcrowding, due to a lack of proper infrastructure.

Prison overcrowding in Latin America is largely due to budget restraints and a lack of political will to increase spending on prison facilities. Despite the popularity of so-called “mano dura” (iron fist) crackdowns on crime in the region, there is little support for spending tax money on humane prison conditions. This has resulted in a lack of sufficient guards, leaving many prisons to be run entirely by street gangs who often direct criminal activities on the outside.

Another major contributing factor to overcrowding is the popularity of “pre-trial detention” in Latin American justice systems. As a result, prisoners in Central and South America often find themselves deprived of their liberty for months at a time before they have been formally convicted of a crime.

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