Latin America / Alternative measures to imprisonment

Alternative measures to guarantee Human Rights

22 March 2021
Trabajo en equipo Medidas Alternativas

The European Union’s EL PAcCTO programme is working to strengthen the fight against Transnational Organised Crime (TOC) through strong cooperation between Europe and Latin America. All the stakeholders in the penal chain, police forces, judicial systems and prison systems are involved in this.

In recent years, very remarkable achievements have been made. However, in order to combat TOC more effectively, it is necessary to target the origins of criminal groups that are strengthened in the prisons themselves in Latin America. One example is the case of the criminal group (PCC) in Brazil. The state of prison overcrowding in the region is also an increasingly worrying phenomenon. According to UNODC data, in 2018 there was a regional average of 617 detainees per 100,000 inhabitants.

Prison cooperation to fight criminal groups

That is why El PAcCTO has made prison cooperation a fundamental element to fight against the criminal groups formed in overcrowded Latin American prisons. They also want to discourage “punitive populism“, a phenomenon that leads to incarceration of minor offenders with the heads of criminal groups, feeding the circle of organised crime.

To promote a more sustainable prison system, EL PAcCTO, together with high-level representations from several Latin American countries, held an inter-institutional workshop in Panama in 2018, the objective and result of which was the development of a Catalogue of Alternative Measures to Prison.

In addition, the Declaration of Montevideo was adopted by 25 Latin American and Caribbean countries, showing widespread interest in the use of Alternative Measures (AM) as tools to reduce the prison population, fight against TOC and prisoner proselytizing, and improve protection of human rights. In Montevideo, counsellor Tartaglia Polcini, coordinator of the prison component of the El PAcCTO Programme, talked about the “Paradox of Montevideo”. A reflection on the San Pedro Sula case, Honduras. A small city of 700,000 inhabitants, with high rates of murder and violence. The city prison was closed for a number of reasons, and the result was that crime rates started falling. This shows that prison is not necessarily the best solution to crime.

Alternative measures to avoid unnecessary crowding

However, in Latin America it is essential that prison and judicial systems consider alternative measures to imprisonment. Different methods are required to serve  criminal sentences, to facilitate judicial processes in reasonable times and with criteria appropriate to each “actus reus”, and also to avoid unnecessary prison overcrowding.

The question is: How is it possible to contribute to the applicability of  theseAM, involving different actors and, above all, communicating that the AM does not mean a clean slate for offenders?

Well, through the Inter-institutional Technical Committees (ITCs) – mechanisms that promote strategies that will generate better inter-institutional organisation between National Ministries; Prison Management; the Attorney General’s Office; Public Defenders; Officers of the Court and representatives of civil society. The objective: to facilitate and promote a broad, systematic application of AM in the countries.

Coordination and participation to train ITCs in Alternative Measures

That said, the participation of the countries in the active creation of ITCs is essential to raise awareness among the public and political decision-makers on the use of AM and its benefits. El PAcCTO will assist countries with its expertise through technical assistance in the formation and implementation process. Also, the dissemination and incorporation of AM in the social – institutional – and prison sectors of each country involved.

In fact, at present, El PAcCTO supports several countries in the region with advice and technical assistance to create and support ITCs and AM.  In Ecuador, for example, tests are being carried out on AM promoted by a Committee in October 2020, involving all the components of the national judicial system. Experts from EL PAcCTO provided advice from November 2020 to February 2021. Based on a set of criteria, some provinces have been selected to implement an initial pilot case. This shows that it is possible to garner institutional support in the region for the effective use of AM.

We conclude by highlighting the importance of encouraging the adoption of Alternative Measures by forming Inter-institutional Technical Committees. They play an essential role in showing that imprisonment in itself  is not always the solution to reducing crime.

We must stress the need for a joint commitment to promote sustainable and humane alternatives to prison overcrowding. The Prison System should reflect on the implementation of AM, especially in cases of minor offenders who do not pose a risk to society.

More information: EL PAcCTO advocates Inter-institutional Technical Committees to promote Alternative Measures to Imprisonment in Latin America

EL PAcCTO Team for cooperation between Prison Systems

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