HomeNewsBriefColombia's Ineffective Justice Underscored by 15% Incarceration Rate
BRIEF

Colombia's Ineffective Justice Underscored by 15% Incarceration Rate

COLOMBIA / 27 APR 2014 BY CHARLES PARKINSON EN

A news investigation in Colombia has revealed that less than one in six people arrested in the country end up imprisoned. Judicial officials say legislation designed to ease prison overcrowding is partially to blame for this culture of impunity.

According to the media organization Semana, of 79,695 people detained by police in the first three months of 2014 -- including 69,000 captured in the act of committing a crime -- just 9,197 have been jailed, with a further 3,021 placed under house arrest.

The figures represent an incarceration rate of 15.33 percent. Unnamed law enforcement officials told the news organization that various criminals were released despite repeat offenses.

"It's not easy to explain to people why one side of the balance of justice [the police] is doing things, while the other [the judiciary] is not," said a member of Colombia's police intelligence unit.

According to judicial officials consulted by Semana, the high degree of impunity is in part due to modifications to the penal code designed to ease prison overcrowding. According to the code, judges are obliged to give out "alternative" punishments rather than prison terms or house arrest to anyone due a sentence of eight years or less. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Disorder and chronic overcrowding affect prisons throughout the region (pdf), and it's not just sentenced prisoners. In Colombia, and much of the region, pre-trial detention can sometimes last years.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Prisons

With no mention of what "alternative" punishments entail and how many offenders were subject to them, it is unclear how many among the 85 percent that escape imprisonment go completely unpunished. Yet accounts of criminals remaining free to reoffend point to grave levels of impunity. 

The irony is that in recent years, Colombia's security forces have been held up as an example in the region, with the country's police and military seen as relatively well-trained and uncorrupt due in large part to billions of dollars of US security aid received since the late 1990s under "Plan Colombia."

However, as this investigation shows, improvements in policing and intelligence are significantly less valuable if the justice system is incapable of functioning effectively. 

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

COCA / 12 JUL 2016

The United Nations' latest estimate of coca cultivation in Colombia is again substantially lower than US government estimates, but both…

COLOMBIA / 1 AUG 2011

As Mexico's criminal underworld fragments under pressure from the security forces, that of Colombia appears to be consolidating around two…

COLOMBIA / 8 JUN 2011

Colombia's security forces discovered 14 tons of marijuana, allegedly belonging to the FARC rebel group, in the southwestern department of…

About InSight Crime

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…

THE ORGANIZATION

Informing US State Department and European Union

1 APR 2022

InSight Crime Co-director McDermott briefed the US State Department and other international players on the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela and the implication this has for both nations.  McDermott…