The National Prison Administration of Argentina or (NPA or Procuración Penitenciaria de la Nación) released on Tuesday a statistics report concerning the second quarter of 2018 and finally recognized that Argentina’s prisons have a systemic overpopulation problem.
According to the report, there are currently 12,302 inmates in 32 federal prisons nationwide. This lack of regulation on the part of the NPA stems from a number of factors, including public pressure to use what is called “pretrial arrest” which gives judges broad power to imprison suspects if they have a firm belief that there’s a risk that the detainee will either flee the country or tamper with the investigation.
This is nothing new — in a past report, the NPA conceded that they didn’t have enough information to be confident about the capacity of their penitentiary units even as they accepted more prisoners; thus contributing to an occupancy to capacity ratio of approximately 130 percent.
The NPA’s report also indicates that 60 percent of all prisoners in federal system have not been officially convicted — i.e, they are still in the trial process. Moreover, a study conducted by United Nations Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer in April of this year revealed that some inmates have been in pretrial arrest for up to five years “without any meaningful investigative or judicial action taken on the part of the prosecuting or adjudicating authorities.”
With so many people in such small spaces, a variety of oversights on the part of the NPA have cropped up in response. At the lesser side of the allegations, their report points to a degradation in hygiene and general health of the inmates and their inability to secure jobs and positions in education programs within the prisons. On the extreme end, there are accounts of torture and abuse by prison administration, among other human rights abuses.
There have been a total of 301 reports of torture and mistreatment to the NPA in the first semester of 2018, a number that has dropped significantly in the past four years. However, the UN report goes on to suggest that this decline in reports is not the result of an actual drop in abuses, but instead the outcome of a lack of action to previous reports made by inmates. In other words, the prisoners have stopped reporting abuses because their words are falling on deaf ears. In addition, he indicates that another reason could be a fear that their complaints will have an effect on lengthening their sentence.
- Read more: UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Presents Critical Observations Regarding Situation in Argentina
In the first semester of 2018, the inmates came together to conduct 163 demonstrations to protest these mistreatments, 99 of which were hunger strikes. The NPA made no comment on whether or not their demands were actually met or how the administration dealt with them.
An often overlooked consequence of the prison model of holding non-violent perpetrators for long periods of time, exacerbated by the broad use of pretrial arrests, is that the volatile conditions of prisons can sometimes turn non-violent people violent. The UN report summarizes this idea in the following statement while questioning the model that Argentina uses to determine who they imprison.
“What happens if you put a nonviolent person in prison” the report wonders. “They may have committed offenses, but they are not violent. But if they spend so much time in conditions where they have to compete with other convicts for scarce resources, they turn violent. We have to identify the purpose of prison.”