Category Archives: Latin America

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;

Immigration Policies Should Not be Driven By Prison Profiteering

On August 7, 2013, officials from the United States and Mexico met in Texas to discuss immigration reform. Roughly 400 thousand people, primarily from our bordering neighbor, are arrested for immigration violations each year.  The creation and enforcement of immigration laws has created a massive industry with a vested interest in continuing the expansion and enforcement of immigration crimes.

Corrections Corporations America, the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation house 80% of those apprehended for immigration crimes.  Between them, they make a profit of over $5 billion per year. CCA Founder is quoted as saying selling the concept of private prisons to the government is just “like you were selling cars, or real estate, or hamburgers.”

Prisons should not be run just like any other business.  The social costs are too great to simply consider the supply and demand of inmates, and increasing supply by legislating new crimes or changing enforcement.  Clearly, these companies rely and directly stand to benefit from anti-immigration laws. The Associated Press noted that they spent $45 million on lobbying over the last decade. Since 2005, the largest growth in prison populations came from federal immigration detentions. It has been the leading cause of incarceration for the last four years.   It is the growth sector for these businesses.

Immigration reform is at the forefront of our national and foreign policy.  Decisions need to be made that make sense domestically and for our relationships with our southern neighbors.  Those decisions should also be driven by what is right, fair, and humane.  They should not be driven by the profiteering of the corrections industry.

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://ljazee.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/the-stream/the-latest/2013/10/9/privatizing-the-undocumented.html&gt;

<http://ljazee.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/the-stream/the-stream-multimedia/2013/10/9/immigration-and-privateprisoncompaniesinfographic.html&gt;

<http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2013/08/07/immigration-private-prisons&gt;

Police Killings in Brazil: “Routine” and Uncontested

According to government figures, Brazilian police kill more suspects than any other country in the world. In 2011, police in the city of Sao Paulo killed one suspect for every 229 they arrested, in comparison to the United States, where it is one per every 31,575.

A military officer takes pictures during the graduation ceremony of 920 new police officers in downtown Sao Paulo.
© 2012 Reuters

An incident last November illustrated this problem. A suspected car thief, Paulo Nascimento, was caught hiding in his home in a poor outskirt of Sao Paulo. He emerged pleading for his life: one officer slapped him, another kicked him in the rear, and a third shot him. The officers attempted to drive Nascimento to the hospital, but he died en route. Police have now been prohibited from transporting wounded suspects to hospitals, as this is often a cover-up for executions. In 2012, 360 of the 379 people transported to the hospital by police ultimately died.

What drew attention to the incident was that an anonymous neighbor got cell phone footage of the confrontation and Nascimento’s final moments. As a result of the video, the officers involved in the death of Nascimento are facing criminal charges; trial began in August of 2013.

Killings of suspects in custody or at the hands of police death squads have become the norm. However, the public is not demanding these officers be convicted. In a poll taken weeks after Nascimento was killed, 53% of Sao Paulo residents said an officer who kills criminals should not be imprisoned. The citizens are fed up with the high levels of robbery-homicides and largely unsympathetic to the fate of those who die in police custody.

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://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323836504578553643435119434&gt;

<http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/07/29/brazil-executions-cover-ups-police&gt;

Wrongfully Jailed Man Dies in an Argentinean Prison

Luciano Peralta was the father of three children.  He earned his living as a gardener. He had recently separated from his wife, Esther Cerrudo, but the two were on very amicable terms. On Sunday, October 27, 2013, Esther asked Luciano to watch the kids while she took care of some personal matters.

Argentinian police officers allege that a neighbor called to report a robbery at Esther’s residence. When they arrived, the officers arrested Luciano in front of his children. They proceeded to seize his motorcycle and the bicycle that belonged to Luciano’s young son.

Luciano was imprisoned in La Plata, a province in the capital city. When his ex-wife and mother arrived at the prison, Esther explained that she had asked him to be there and the children at the house were Luciano’s children.  Nonetheless, they were told he would be spending the night in jail.

The following day, a public defender assured Luciano he would be free. She noted that he seemed lost and confused. Prior to his being released, Luciano began to suffer a panic attack. He started trembling and convulsing. His mother was at the prison, but she was not allowed to see him. The officers did not call a doctor nor did they call an ambulance. Luciano received no medical attention. Ultimately, he died in his cell.

Norma Silguero and Tatiana Peralta, mother and sister of the deceased. (Photo: @martinenlared)

Norma Silguero and Tatiana Peralta, mother and sister of the deceased. (Photo: @martinenlared)

We may never know the true motivations for the arrest or what really happened to Luciano at the jail.  This case is another example of tragedies that can result from wrongful arrests and the need for reform within the Argentinian police.

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://diagonales.infonews.com/nota-204205-Estuvo-preso-sin-causa-y-murio-en-los-Tribunales-de-La-Plata.html&gt;

Brazil’s New “DNA” Technology

DNA technology has become a key component in prosecuting the guilty and exonerating the innocent. DNA evidence increases certainty and enhances fairness.

In a new twist, Police Director Leandro Daiello of Brazil said the country has developed technology that works to detect the “DNA” of cocaine. The process involves analyzing trace alkaloids in the cocaine back to coca leaves grown in precise areas of the region.

Cocaine in Bolivia

 In August of 2013, Brazil reported the DNA of the nation’s drugs: approximately 60% of the country’s cocaine came from Bolivia, 30% from Peru, and 10% from Columbia. The process has enabled police to determine the origins of the drug, what other chemicals are being used in the drug’s production, and where the drugs are being transported.

A federal forensic expert for Brazil’s Criminalist Institute, Adriano Maldaner, noted that the drug problem is international, “which makes the exchange of information and training critical.” To date, the technology is being used in a project that has partnered with Bolivia, Paraguay, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Laboratories throughout the world are receiving the same samples and comparing their work.

On August 23, 2013, Paraguayan officials seized two tons of cocaine near the country’s border with Brazil. The aforementioned technology and regional cooperation will assist in the investigation.

In nations where access to technology remains limited, adequate policing and access to justice is also inhibited. This scientific advance is another tool in the tool box which may prove to be useful.

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 visit:

<https://reportingproject.net/occrp/index.php/en/ccwatch/cc-watch-briefs/1829-brazil-drug-dna-and-drones-to-fight-trafficking&gt;

<http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/brazil-developing-technology-to-trace-cocaine-dna&gt;

<http://infosurhoy.com/en_GB/articles/saii/features/main/2013/08/19/feature-01&gt;

<http://globalnews.ca/news/799330/paraguay-seizes-nearly-2-tons-of-cocaine-along-brazil-border/&gt;

Children Living in Jails in Bolivia

The San Pedro Prison located in La Paz, Bolivia, was built 140 years ago for 250 inmates. Today it houses around 2,000 inmates and is home to 200 children. The number rises to almost 400 at Christmas time.

The mural reads: Welcome to the football pitch... Freedom and justice for everyone.

The mural reads: Welcome to the football pitch… Freedom and justice for everyone.

Denis Racicot, a representative of the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, reported that Bolivia is the only country where children live in jails with their parents. Ramiro Llanos, the current Director of the Prison system, insisted this is not uncommon practice in other parts of South America.

During the day, the children living in San Pedro either go to nurseries located inside or attend schools outside. There is an elementary school 50 yards away. The kids are ashamed of their residence, often making up false addresses. Furthermore, their perception of reality is significantly disparate from those of their classmates.

Children living in the Bolivian jails.

Children living in the Bolivian jails.

Life inside the San Pedro Prison is extremely unique. First and foremost, inmates must pay for their rooms. The jail is divided into eight sectors based on their relative value, ranging from the most luxurious La Posta sector to the most miserable. Inmates can rent their rooms if they are unable to afford them. There are also inmates who are homeless, forced to live in the hallways, because they cannot afford rent. This is comparable to drug warlords in Mexico, who are afforded better cell accommodations, food, and liquor catering services thanks to their political power, social position, and monetary advantages.

In order to pay for their rooms, inmates must work to earn a living. Within the jail they might work as carpenters, laundry staff, shoe-shiners, or sell food and groceries. Police do not intervene with the jail’s internal affairs. Prisoners are denied sufficient basics like soap, shampoo, and clothing. Thus, the majority of their resources are brought to them from outside family members, including their children.

Live inside a Bolivian prison.

Life inside a Bolivian prison.

The fact that children are living with their incarcerated fathers is evidence of the lack of positive alternatives for them. Some say that it has a humanizing effect on inmates, encouraging their rehabilitation and desire to reenter society successfully. However, the potential for disastrous psychological and physical effects is there. For example, in June, a 12 year-old girl was raped and impregnated. In the nearby city of Santa Cruz, a prison fire on August 23, 2013, killed 29 inmates and one 18-month old child.

Due to the outrage that these two recent events sparked, the government of Bolivia stressed it plans to shut down the prison in San Pedro. This is not the first time the government has threatened to take action. Furthermore, it is an action directed at the symptom, not the source of the problem. First, quite astoundingly, only 25% of inmates have actually been convicted. The rest are awaiting trial. This reflects the entire country’s incarceration rate: as of 2011, 80% of the 10,496 prisoners were on preventative detention. Additionally, every four of five prisoners is in for drug-related offenses.

In 2011, President Evo Morales attempted to address the issue of the stagnant and corrupt judicial system by holding a nation-wide election. Judges were chosen for the Supreme Court and three lower courts. There were 125 candidates, 52 positions, and 5.2 eligible voters. Unfortunately, a congressional assembly committee made up of the President’s supporters selected the 125 candidates. The opposition was merely able to view candidates and voice appeals.

The San Pedro Prison is essentially a “jail town.” Inmates must work to earn a living, pay for their accommodations, and are permitted to live with their sons and daughters. This poses a huge risk to the children. Nevertheless, due to the lack of institutional development in the judicial area, insufficient public resources, and extreme poverty of most prisoners, the situation looks bleak. It seems access to justice is severely limited by one’s economic power.

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 sources and information please see:

<http://www.nu.org.bo/noticias/noticias-nacionales/onu-rechaza-presencia-de-ninos-ninas-en-las-carceles/&gt; <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/picture_gallery/06/americas_inside_a_bolivian_jail/html/1.stm&gt;

<http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/10/201110169924243497.html&gt;

<http://danmoriarty.blogspot.com/2013/06/closing-san-pedro-prison.html&gt;

Chile Closes Luxury Prison

CHILEAN JAIL FOR DICTATORSHIP SUPPORTERS WILL BE CLOSED AFTER MOVING INMATES

One house in the Cordillera jail in Santiago, now to be closed.

General Augusto Pinochet ruled over Chile as a dictator from 1973 to 1990. When he died in 2006, he was facing over 300 potential criminal charges for human rights violations, tax evasion, and embezzlement. The 40th anniversary of the coup d’état that brought him to power was passed on September 11. For many, it was a day to remember Pinochet intolerance for political opposition and the tens of thousands of people who were killed, tortured, or interned during his reign. To date, Chile has officially recognized 40,018 victims of the dictatorship; 75% were killed.

Penal Cordillera is a luxury prison that was built in the capital city of Santiago in 2004. It currently houses only 10 inmates: eight generals and two colonels from Pinochet’s military. The inmates have “an assistant, three paramedics, two cuisine teachers, and a nutritionist to supervise their meals.” The convicts live in small cabins with hot showers, share a pool, tennis court, and barbecue, and are allowed to visit home. It is known as a “golden prison.” It is very different from the Chilean prisons I recently posted about where substandard sustenance, sanitary conditions, and overcrowding has incited various long-lasting hunger strikes.

On September 26, President Sebastián Piñera announced his decision to close Cordillera. He pointed to the importance of “equality before the law” as his reasoning. Piñera announced the inmates would be moved to Punta Peuco, a less luxurious jail also intended for human rights offenders. Two days after his statement, the head of Pinochet’s feared intelligence agency, General Odladier Mena, left the prison for the weekend and killed himself outside his home.

The director of Chile’s official Human Rights Institute called the closure of Cordillera a milestone. Michelle Bachelet, former president and front-runner for the upcoming November election, was detained and tortured during Pinochet’s dictatorship. She praised the decision.

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.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/27/chile-closes-luxury-prison-pinochet-cordillera&gt;

<http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2013/09/29/chile-pinochet-era-general-commits-suicide-before-jail-transfer/&gt;

<http://www.voxxi.com/chile-closes-golden-prison/&gt;

Photograph: Mario Ruiz/EPA