HomeNewsAnalysisCoronavirus Turns House Arrest Into Hot Button Issue in Argentina
ANALYSIS

Coronavirus Turns House Arrest Into Hot Button Issue in Argentina

ARGENTINA / 5 MAY 2020 BY JOSEFINA SALOMÓN EN

Fears of the coronavirus spreading within Argentina's prisons has ignited inmate protests and led officials to release prisoners to house arrest, a move that has generated controversy and widespread debate over prison conditions in the country.

One of the largest protests took place on April 23 at the federal prison in Villa Devoto, the most populated in Buenos Aires, demanding authorities take measures to protect them from the spread of COVID-19. Two inmates later tested positive for the virus, La Nación reported.

“We refuse to die in prison,” read a banner hanging from a prison window

SEE ALSO: Argentina News and Profiles

The protests came a day after an inmate at a separate Buenos Aires prison was found dead after guards violently repressed a protest.

The prisoners scaled the prison walls to demand improved sanitary conditions after an inmate had a confirmed coronavirus infection. Videos show rubber bullets being shot at prisoners, while inmates hurl rocks. The incidents left 40 prisoners and 15 guards injured, Clarín reported.

Two prison guards have been arrested and several others are under investigation into the shooting death of the inmate, Federico Rey, according to La Nación.

Authorities say they are taking measures to protect inmates from coronavirus infections, testing those with symptoms and providing sanitary items such as cleaning products. In the province of Santa Fe, authorities recruited extra medical personnel to work in the prisons.

Officials have also released prisoners on house arrest to reduce overcrowding. At least 800 inmates in Buenos Aires from groups at particular risk from the virus have already benefited from the move, according to official data published by La Nación. Many who have been released are serving time on nonviolent offenses.

On April 30, people across Argentina banged pots and pans outside their windows to protest the release of prisoners. An online petition against the policy has also received over 600,000 signatures.

Some 63,000 people are held in federal prisons across Argentina and in jails in the province of Buenos Aires, according to a study by the Universidad Nacional Tres de Febrero. Nearly 20 percent of all prisoners are held on drug-related charges.

InSight Crime Analysis

The coronavirus pandemic has not only exposed poor prison conditions in Argentina but also put its judges in a bind when it comes to weighing prisoners' and victims' rights. 

After the first cases of coronavirus were recorded in Argentina in early March, and with a mandatory quarantine effectively banning prison visits, inmates across the country launched a series of protests in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Corrientes, Santa Fe and Mendoza.

More than 6,000 inmates have reportedly gone on hunger strike at prisons in Santa Fe to demand that the courts allow for more of them to serve their sentences at home, according to La Nación.

SEE ALSO: How Has Coronavirus Shifted Argentina’s Drug Dynamics?

In response to the inmates’ demands and concerns that prison outbreaks could lead to mass casualties, the country’s Federal Appeals Court recommended that house arrest be granted to nonviolent inmates who are at higher risk of health complications, such as the elderly, the immunocompromised, and pregnant women.

While authorities rightly claim they have a responsibility to protect the lives of inmates, and sending them home is seen a the most efficient option in the short term, many including some judges and crime victims complained prisoners are being released without effective control mechanisms to ensure they actually stay at home.

The judiciary seems to be divided over house arrest, with some judges claiming prisoners should not be sent home because of the potential risks for their victims. Advocates for crime victims have appealed the federal court's recommendation.

Women who have survived abuse and relatives of femicide victims have said they are concerned for their safety. In some cases, this has led to judges reversing their decisions to send prisoners home if they could not guarantee the security of the victims.

Some judges have already rejected requests for house arrest from individuals held on drug trafficking charges.

A judge who spoke to Clarín suggested a better alternative to house arrest would be to create more room for inmates in existing prisons or to build new detention centers in buildings that are not currently being used, such as schools, to ensure that social distancing measures can be enforced.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ECUADOR / 24 FEB 2021

Long-simmering tensions between prison gangs in Ecuador exploded this week, leaving at least 75 people brutally killed in four prisons…

BRAZIL / 31 DEC 2021

Prediction of the criminal dynamics for 2022 is even harder than most years, as it involves predicting the march of…

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 22 JUN 2016

A new report documents 2015 as the worst year on record for murders of land and environmental defenders. Latin American…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…