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IACHR: Prison Overcrowding Fuels Human Rights Abuses

PRISONS / 11 MAY 2012 BY GEOFFREY RAMSEY EN

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released a report alleging that overcrowding in prisons across the region are contributing to the “systematic violation” of inmates’ human rights.

According to the IACHR’s “Report on the Human Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas,” overcrowding is the biggest problem facing Latin America’s prisons, “affecting the vast majority of prisons in the region.”

The human rights body claims that this trend is responsible for a number of recent deaths in regional prisons, from the February prison fire in Honduras which killed more than 350 inmates to the recent spate of prison riots in Venezuela.

The report also notes the widespread use of torture as a means of interrogation by prison guards. While the authors point to instances of torture in penal facilities in Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay as examples, they also note the United States’ treatment of detainees in Guantanamo bay as an “illustrative example” of such abuse.

InSight Crime Analysis

The problem of prison overcrowding is exacerbated in Latin America due to budget restraints and a lack of political will to spend money on more humane prison facilities. The unpopularity of spending money on prisons in the region also contributes to them being notoriously understaffed. Because of the lack of sufficient guards, prisons in the region are often almost entirely run by street gangs, which frequently use their time in jail to direct criminal activities on the outside.

Another contributor to the problem is the fact that the judicial systems in many Latin American countries allow for “pre-trial detention,” which can last months. As a result, prisons throughout the region are filled with individuals who have not yet been formally convicted of a crime.

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