Inhuman prisons in Argentina

The recent bloody prison riots in the Argentinean city of Cordoba are clear evidence of the decaying condition of the prison system in the whole country.

In November 2004 the Group for the Study of Human Rights and Persons Deprived of Freedom reported on the ‘very critical’ situation of 477 inmates in the town of General Roca, due to the lack of any separation between juveniles and adults, or between remand and sentenced prisoners. Many detainees sleep on the floor; there is a lack of facilities for work or study; toilets are blocked, and electric and water supplies are prone to disruption.

The alarming situation in the Mendoza prison forced the Interamerican Court of Human Rights to send a delegation to the prison in December 2004. This gaol is considered one of the most disastrous in the hemisphere. It is 280% over capacity and 15 people have been killed there in the last ten months.

A report in the newspaper Clarin on 13 December 2004 highlighted that in Buenos Aires province alone there are 25,000 prisoners, and that this figure is increasing on average by 300 per month.

Two main factors lie behind the appalling conditions. Firstly, the process of privatising services, pioneered by the US since the mid-1980s. This has led to controversy about the exploitation of prison labour through subcontracts, for the benefit of Microsoft, TWA, Boeing, Konica, Jansport and Victoria’s Secret.

The contract for Argentina’s first privately managed prison was agreed in 1999 between the provincial government of Buenos Aires, the provincial Justice Secretary and a private company. This company is also in charge of prison catering, inmate health-care and the maintenance of the building.

Secondly, although Statute 24660, passed in 1996, gave power to some judges to look after prisoners’ rights and to follow up their development, in practice this simply didn’t happen. Instead the internal administration took on that role, deciding at will about the regime, transfers, correspondence and conditions of allocation.

The situation requires a dramatic change. Otherwise new uprisings could take place and more blood will be shed, as happened in Cordoba this February.
Juanjo Rivas

FRFI 184 April / May 2005