New data on Honduras' prison population seems to indicate that mandatory pre-trial detention has exacerbated overcrowding in recent years, providing added justification for a recent congressional decision to give judges more leeway when determining incarceration during criminal proceedings.
Figures released August 9 by the National Penitentiary Institute (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario –INP) show that the prison population in Honduras has grown by 30 percent since 2013, increasing from 12,032 to 17,017 inmates, reported La Tribuna.
This significant increase occurred over the three years following implementation of mandatory pre-trial detention for 21 crimes. The detention rule was included in a 2013 reform of article 184 of the Criminal Proceedings Code (Código Proceso Penal).
Mandatory pre-trial detention -- which prohibits judges from choosing alternatives to time behind bars -- had been in effect for crimes such as drug trafficking, extortion and sexual assault, for which a majority of current prisoners are being detained, according to La Tribuna. The law placed individuals awaiting trial for these crimes in preventive custody with no possibility of bail. As a result, more than 8,000 prisoners are currently being held without a conviction.
Other crimes covered by the article 184 reform include the various types of homicide, war crimes, contraband and asset laundering.
InSight Crime Analysis
These new figures come less than a month after the vote by National Congress to ratify a new reform of article 184 which gives judges more leeway during criminal proceedings and allows for substitutive measures for those accused of one of the 21 specified crimes.
The decision is expected to help Honduras reduce prison overcrowding as well as deal with some correlated crime and human rights issues within prison walls. It could also liberate a substantial amount of money currently spent on the detention of individuals awaiting trial, which would be welcomed by a judiciary in dire need of finances and of reform.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Judicial Reform
Reinstating alternative measures is the latest in a series of steps taken by Honduras to tackle the overcrowding issue, with previous measures including building immense prisons and employing military staff to guard them.
However, the measure fails to break with past policy in its single minded focus on the judiciary, rather than a holistic approach that entails comprehensive judicial, social and security measures aimed at treating the roots of crime in the country. Without such a comprehensive approach, it is unlikely that the adopted measures will have a significant long-term impact on stabilizing the prison population in the country.