SANTIAGO – The National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) has published a study on Chilean prisons that says inmates go day to day without basic human necessities. The institute says this is due to the government’s lack of concern.
The National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) has published the third version of its report “Study of Prison Conditions in Chile,” covering 2016-2017. The study analyzed 40 of the country’s 87 prisons—those directly administered by the Gendarmería de Chile (the armed service that operates the prisons) and not by private concessionaires. “The 153-page document gives an account of the reality of 5,417 people who live in seclusion at these non-concessioned prison campuses.”
The report details protection measures, execution of sentences, contact with the outside world, daily regimens and activities, medical services, freedom of belief and religious worship, and preparation for release.
According to the report, the objective of this study is “to investigate empirically the situation and degree of compliance with the human rights of persons deprived of liberty, together with the identification of those aspects that must be optimized to guarantee the fundamental rights of the prison population.”
Rodrigo Bustos, head of the INDH Judicial Legal Unit, spoke with Chile Today and explained that inmates are under the care of the State, so their security “must be safeguarded.” He emphasized that just because they are in prison doesn’t mean they “lose their human rights,” yet they do in many of these centers in Chile.
Lack of beds
A basic shortcoming detailed in the report was a lack of beds. Of the total number of centers studied, 26 did not have a regular space for the prisoners to rest. In fact, as reported, over 51% of the men, and nearly 36% of the women, did not have their own space to sleep.
In the Yumbel Center, for example, in the first-time offender cell there were 24 people but only 19 beds. The report also states that “the prisoners who do not have cots sleep on mattresses on the floor.”
The lack of beds is a byproduct of another problem: significant overcrowding. As the report details, 22 of the 40 detention centers studied exceeded the “maximum allowed” number of inmates; and, of these 22, 11 were at a “critical” level, defined as exceeding 140% occupancy.
Bustos said that all of the above was “worrisome” enough, but the prisons’ problems are even more extensive and fundamental: 90% of the centers studied had “structural elements with deficiencies in one or more aspects.” Among the most reoccurring problems were the lack of bathrooms, the lack of proper air circulation, and the poor state of electrical connections.
In terms of hygiene services and access to water, 24 of the 40 had some level of deprivation or insufficiency in access to water and sanitary services 24 hours a day. At the same time, in the detention centers that had hygienic services, there was a presence of “situations such as undrained or stagnant water, lack of hygiene, humidity, fungi, leaks, lack of ventilation, among others.”
Pest infestation is also a problem. In 10 centers, there were reports of significant numbers of pests, with the Talagante center standing out due to a large quantity of insects.
“Pagos al contado”
The report also touched on the treatment of prisoners. Of note was the high level of “extra-regulatory” punishments the prisoners received—that is, punishments that are “not established in the sanctioning catalog” and that do not “comply with the minimum standards that guarantee … legality.”
Of the 40 studied, 15 presented these types of punishments, highlighting one of the “most common “off-label” sanctions that apply in prison: the so-called “pago al contado”—metaphorically, “cash payment.” This is when a guard orders an inmate to do physical exercises or cleaning or simply beats the inmate in exchange for not recording some actual or alleged offense by the inmate which might cause the inmate to lose some penitentiary benefit.
For example, in the Tocapilla center, it is reported that “receiving blows, kicks or slaps in exchange for not receiving a penalty is a regular occurrence.”
A State problem
The report ends with 55 recommendations from INDH to the State, which are subdivided into 35 short-term, 17 medium-term, and 3 long-term enforcement measures.
This report was sent to the Minister of Justice and the Director of Gendarmería and will also be presented to the Human Rights Committee of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. As Busto explains, “this is not a problem of Gendarmería or its officials,” because they are also affected by these problems. “This a problem of the State, which has not addressed the crisis of Chilean prisons.”
Click the link to see the report in full detail.
Nelson Quiroz is Chile Today´s photographer. He also writes about youth culture and fashion, and often contributes with photo series during marches and protests.