Category Archives: Latin America

OVERCROWDING AND VIOLENCE CONTINUE TO BE CHRONIC PROBLEMS IN LATIN AMERICAN PRISONS

Overcrowding, inadequate physical conditions, and inmate violence are the main problems in Latin American prisons according to the latest report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of the people around the world.

In its report HRW highlighted the following as the most chronic problems in Latin American prisons: (i) prisons and jails are severely overcrowded; (ii) prison guards are insufficient and poorly trained (iii) security in the prisons is weak and the infrastructures are deteriorating; (iv) inmates are confined in police lock ups not designed or equipped to hold detainees for long periods; (v) inmates are tortured by prison guards; (vi) armed gangs control prisons; (vii) inhumane prison conditions facilitate the spread of diseases and prisoners’ access to medical care remains inadequate; and (viii) hundreds of violent prison deaths occur every year.

 To partially solve the overcrowding problem, Chile, for example, has promulgated laws that allow voluntary return of non-Chilean inmates to their countries of origin.  They also provide six alternatives to prison for low risk offenders, including community service and the use of electronic bracelets. These are good reforms, but they are hardly a remedy for the massive challenges facing the Latin American prison systems.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

www.redinocente.org
www.californiainnocenceproject.org

For more information, please see: http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/about

COMPENSATION ORDERED IN WRONGFUL CONVICTION CASE LINKED TO PABLO ESCOBAR IN COLOMBIA

The Colombian Administrative Supreme Court (Consejo de Estado) has granted Pablo Enrique Zamora and his family 1,000 million pesos for the pain and suffering caused by his wrongful conviction and subsequent ten-year incarceration.

Pablo-EscobarEnrique was thought to be involved in the murder of the well-known journalist Guillermo Cano Isaza, head of the daily newspaper El Espectador. His tragic death took place in 1986, the murder allegedly ordered by the leader of the Medellin Cartel, Pablo Escobar, in response to the newspaper’s strong position against his drug trafficking criminal activities.

After nine years of investigation, in a procedure fraught with irregularities, Enrique, and two others, were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and subsequently sentenced to sixteen years in prison. However, after Enrique served ten years in prison, the Supreme Court of Colombia exonerated and released him, concluding that he had been wrongfully convicted.

In its ruling the Colombian Administrative Supreme Court (Consejo de Estado) recognized that, at the time, the judicial authorities were moved by the intense pressure of the media that surrounded the case and that the evidence was not probative. The court also ordered the Judicial Branch to implement judicial training to try to prevent wrongful convictions in Colombia.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

For more information, please see:

http://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/asesinato-de-guillermo-cano-el-condenado-inocente-recibira-1000-millones/377849-3

http://www.freemedia.at/awards/guillermo-cano.html

http://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/ARTICULO-WEB-NEW_NOTA_INTERIOR-13624035.html

http://www.globaljournalist.org/stories/2000/07/01/guillermo-cano-colombia/

http://www.vanguardia.com/actualidad/colombia/247858-indemnizaran-a-condenado-injustamente-por-la-muerte-de-guillermo-cano-isa

http://www.elcolombiano.com/BancoConocimiento/E/el_crimen_de_guillermo_cano_de_lesa_humanidad/el_crimen_de_guillermo_cano_de_lesa_humanidad.asp

http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-justicia/condenan-nacion-equivocacion-caso-guillermo-cano

http://www.caracol.com.co/noticias/judiciales/8203ordenan-indemnizar-a-hombre-condenado-por-homicidio-de-guillermo-cano/20140220/nota/2090555.aspx

Chilean Innocence Project Exonerates Wrongfully Convicted Man When Eyewitness Observes the Real Criminal Commit Another Crime!

On January 14, 2014, the Supreme Court of Chile granted the appeal of Julio C. Robles Vergara, ordering his immediate release. In June, 2012, Mr. Robles was convicted of robbery at a minimarket and was sentenced to prison for five years and one day based on the victim’s eyewitness misidentification.

Mr. Robles was identified in a photo array, but after his conviction the victim realized his mistake when he saw his real assailant stealing in another store.  Based on this information, Proyecto Inocente de la Defensoría Penal Pública de Chile was able to present the case to the Chilean Supreme Court and end Robles’ four hundred and fifty nine days of wrongful incarceration.

Cases like this demonstrate that faulty eyewitness identification is a global problem.  Courts should consider the many studies illustrating the problems with these types of identifications before convicting based on this evidence.  Mr. Robles was incredibly lucky that the actual perpetrator committed the crime again in the presence of the witness in his case.  We cannot allow cases to only be remedied when there is such a random happenstance.  How many other people sit in prison who will never be able to prove that the identification in their case was faulty?

Congratulations to Proyecto Inocente de la Defensoría Penal Pública de Chile for exonerating Mr. Robles and bringing the problems with identifications to the public’s attention in Chile.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

For more information regarding Mr. Robles’s case, please see: http://www.proyectoinocentes.cl/sala_prensa/noticias_detalle/74/caso-robles-algunas-reflexiones-a-partir-de-un-recurso-de-revision-acogido

For more information abourt Innocence Project in Chile, please see: http://www.proyectoinocentes.cl/

For more information about Red Inocente, please see: http://www.redinocente.org/

Mexican Exoneree Sets Himself on Fire

On March 8, 2014, José Guadalupe Macías Maldonado died.  Macías, a 59 year old exoneree, set himself on fire as a protest for the lack of economic support the Government of the State had allegedly promised him when he was exonerated and released.

The tragic episode took place on March 7 in the Civic Center Plaza of Mexicali, Baja California (Mexico).  Mr. Macías shouted that the Government of the State had lied to him by promising him economic support.  He soaked himself in gasoline and set himself ablaze. Police officers were able to extinguish the fire, but not before it caused fatal injuries

Mr. Macías had been convicted of murder in 2002, despite his continuous claims of innocence.  In January 2013, the Superior Court of the State exonerated him on the basis that there had been mistakes in the investigation conducted by prosecution (Procuraduría General de Justicia).

Several days before Mr. Macías’ suicide he filed a complaint against the Government of the State claiming 10 million pesos for the pain and suffering caused by his nearly 11 years of wrongful incarceration.

This is an absolutely tragic example of how injustice can end in the worst possible way.  

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

For more information, please see:  http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=366842

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • The unintended consequences of compensating the exonerated
  • Canada’s system for reviewing alleged wrongful convictions “failing miserably”
  • West Virginia University Law Innocence Project pushes interrogation recording bill
  •  What does a record number of U.S. exonerations in 2013 tell us?
  • ESPN video on the wrongful accusation against Richard Jewel for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing
  • Ex-cop exonerated after 20 years in prison awarded $9 million
  • Mexican lawyers turned filmmakers win civil suit against them brought by family of victim in wrongful conviction case they exposed through the documentary Presumed Guilty
  • Planned changes in UK’s compensation laws for exonerees will make it nearly impossible to obtain compensation after wrongful conviction
  • New Zealand Innocence Project re-ignites debate about the need for a wrongful convictions commission
  • Idaho Innocence Project client Sarah Pearce may soon be released—settlement discussions ongoing

Violence In Brazilian Prisons Revealed in Decapatation Video

Man holding jail barsThe prison conditions in Latin America continue to be a crippling problem for the justice system, highlighted by the recent events in Brazil.  On January 7, 2014, the Brazilian daily newspaper Folha de São Paulo released a gruesome video showing the decapitation of three inmates. The video was taken, presumably, by inmates of Pedrinhas prison (São Luis, Brazil), on December 17, 2014.

This is just one example of the general violence in Brazilian prisons, especially in the state of Maranhão (north Brazil), where, from 2007 to now, approximately one hundred sixty nine inmates have been killed (sixty two in Predrinhas prison during 2013).

Amnesty International has denounced the situation and has described Brazilian prisons as overcrowded dungeons. They claim the government has done little to remedy these conditions.  The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has also urged the Brazilian authorities to conduct an “immediate, impartial and effective” investigation.

The main causes of the problems are delays in the judicial system, lack of sufficient prison spots and the low ratio of police/inmate population. According to the International Prison Study Center, Brazil has the fourth largest inmate population in the world with 548,003 inmates housed in a penitentiary system with a capacity of 318,739.

The international pressure created due to the release of the prison decapitation video has resulted in the Minister of Justice, José Eduardo Cardozo, announcing a package of emergency measures aimed at trying to control chaos in prisons. These measures will be a positive first step in Brazilian prison reform, although without true long-term reform in the justice system prison overcrowding will continue to foster major problems.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

For more information, please see:  http://mexico.cnn.com/mundo/2014/01/10/brasil-despliega-un-plan-de-emergencia-contra-la-violencia-en-sus-carceles

Image courtesy of bejim / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mexican Prison Overcrowding Reveals Underlying Issues

Mexican prisons are suffering from severe overcrowding due to preventative detentions and the lack of sentencing alternatives.  Mexico Evaluates, a Center of Analysis and Public Policy, has referred to the country’s prison system as a ticking time bomb.

The overcrowding in Mexico’s penitentiaries is obvious when you look at the capacities and current populations. There is at least one prison operating at 400% capacity and six are operating between 176-274% capacity. Currently, there are 242,000 inmates incarcerated in 420 prisons designed to house 195,000.  As in the United States, Felipe Calderon, President from 2006 to 2012, focused on building more cells.  This did not cure the problem, which lies in the overuse of preventative detention and the lack of alternative sentencing

Statistics from this past year reveal that 41.3% of prisoners had not yet been convicted.  There were three Mexican prisons where more than 60% of inmates had not been convicted, four where more than 76% of inmates had not been convicted, and in the prison in Tabasco, 94.5% of inmates had yet to be convicted.

The second major issue is that jail-time is viewed as the only logical solution to crimes.  In 2011, 96.4% of sentences called for incarcerations.  Only 3.6% of crimes were punished with other sanctions such as fines.  This is evidence that minor or common crimes are being treated the same as serious and violent crimes.  For example, the penal code establishes a similar sentence for a nonviolent robbery and a homicide without aggravating factors.  Approximately 72,000 inmates are currently incarcerated for theft.

The Mexican penal system must be altered and not simply used for preventative detention.  Alternative sanctions should also be explored so that the punishments better fit the crimes.  Overcrowded prisons become violent and ineffective at any form of rehabilitation. Former President Felipe Calderon admitted the country’s prisons only serve a retributive purpose.  The new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has promised to envision new solutions.  Hopefully those will be coming soon.

Family members mourn the loss of inmates killed in prison riot where 44 were left dead.

Family members mourn the loss of inmates killed in prison riot where 44 were left dead.

Follow me on Twitter: @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu
www.californiainnocenceproject.com

For more information please see:  <http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=355719&gt;

Photo Credit to:  <http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2012-02-19/mexico-prison-riot/53152968/1&gt;