Contributor(s)International Prison Observatory - Argentinian Section

Specific population

The latest report (2014) from the Sistema Nacional de Estadísticas sobre la Ejecución de Penas (SNEEP) shows a total of 68,060 prisoners. The argentinian Observatorio Internacional de Prisiones (OIP) points out that this figure does not include some 14,000 persons kept in police stations for long periods at a time.

The rate of incarceration has increased progressively, from 91 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants in 1997 to 160 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2014.

The SNEEP estimates that the percentage of remand prisoners is 50.9%. Due to overcrowding, it is not possible to separate pre-trial defendants from those already convicted. 35% of prisoners serve a sentence of three to six years, 8% (2,453) were sentenced to life in prison.

Officially, the rate of overpopulation has risen to 103.3%. This figure does not take into account those detained in police stations where the occupation rate is unknown. Futhermore, the prison population is not evenly distributed across the country: the province of Buenos Aires has 70% of the country’s prisoners. 

The Federal Penitentiary System (SFP) houses people convicted for federal violations including kidnapping, drug trafficking, terrorism and conspiracy. Provincial prisons, for example Buenos Aires (Bonaerense) and others house individuals who live or have committed crimes in the local region.   

Although the figures are approximate, the 2014 SNEEP report calculates that 10,424 prisoners are distributed amongst the 34 federal prisons and 31,224 prisoners in the 55 prisons of Buenos Aires. The remaining prisoner population is held in the individual provinces.

Pre-trial detainees

50.9 %

Argentina has 2,989 female inmates according to the 2014 SNEEP report. The OIP estimates the number to be higher. The SPF has seven institutions for women. Continuing Spanish traditions, the Catholic church administers numerous provincial detention centers, including Corrientes and San Luisa. Provincial penitentiary services administer recently constructed prisons.

Women prisons must give birth in hospitals, although this does not guarantee them basic dignities. V.T., a woman detained in Unit 33 of Los Hornos Buenos Aires, gave birth with one foot handcuffed the bed. Her lawyers accused the SPB and health center of torture after the baby girl was born with neurological problems and hypoglycemia.

Law N° 26.472, enacted in 2008, permits pregnant women and women with children under five years old to serve under house arrest. In practice this alternative to imprisonment isn’t used. 5% of women prisoners (162) are living in prison with their children, according the SNEEP report. These children can remain in prison with their mothers up to the age of four. Some prisons have daycare centers for children born in prison. The OIP wants house arrest to be used for all mothers with small children, with the exception only being those sentenced to life imprisonment. Separating mothers from their children aged 5 years or older serves as an additional punishment for both.

In many prisons, a meeting with the prison director is needed to obtain basic hygiene products including sanitary products, toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap. In some units, each inmate is given two sanitary pads per month. Relatives can send supplies, but these do not always reach their intended recipients. Prisoners can buy hygiene products at the prison shop, where prices are inflated.

According to a 2013 study by Procuración Penitenciaria Nacional (PPN) and Chicago and Cornell University law schools, 56% of female prisoners are detained on drug charges. The reason for this percentage is that the war on drugs focuses on the bottom of the drug trafficking chain, where women are often employed as drug mules. 85% of women prisoners said that their crime was motivated by money. In 75% of cases they were the main income provider for their households.

The female prison population grew by 193% between 1990 and 2012, the male prison population grew by 111% during the same period.

Female prisoners

4.3 %

Young people aged 16 to 18 have full legal responsibility according to Law Nº 22.278, inherited from the last dictatorship. Minors under 16 years can have legal responsibility but cannot receive a prison sentence. In practice, this depends on judges who are able to retroactively sentence for crimes committed before the age of 16.

80% of minors between 16 and 18 years old are sentenced to community service. If they commit serious violations, they should be imprisoned in juvenile centers. In practice, sentence enforcement falls to each province, meaning some minors are imprisoned with adults. 20 minors were incarcerated in adult prisons according to the 2014 SNEEP report. Prisons usually have special wings for prisoners aged 18 to 21 years old.

In 2013, the National Supreme Court and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH) condemned the State of Argentina for not guaranteeing the separation of minors and adults in the prison system. Since then, debate has begun to amend the law.

In 2014, there were 511 incarcerated minors according to a report by the Procuraduría de Violencia Institucional (PROCUVIN) and the Base General de Datos de Niños. The OIP believes the figure has increased in 2015. The report estimates that nine out of ten juvenile prisoners are male and eight out of ten complete their sentences within one year.

Conditions in juvenile centers are almost as dangerous as in adult prisons, putting the educational aims of the juvenile justice system at risk.

L.S, a 17 year old prisoner at the Manuel Rocca Institution, died in a fire on July 24th 2015. Another adolescent, D.B, was taken to hospital in a critical condition. There were no fire extinguishers, emergency lights or doctors at the prison when the fire broke out. The mattresses were made of foam-rubber instead of the non-flammable materials recommended for prisons. Authorities knew the mattresses needed to be changed. There had been at least two attempted fires in the weeks before the incident. Flame-proof mattresses had even been purchased one month before the fire, although even after this incident, the administration still took several months to distribute them.

Juvenile prisoners

0.7 %

5.1% of the inmates in Argentina are foreigners (3,942) according to the 2014 SNEEP report. In the provincial prisons (including SPB), which hold 51,000 inmates or 84% of the toal prisoner population, foreigners make up 2.8% (1,432). In the SPF prisons, which hold 16% of the toal prisoner population, foreigners represent 21% of the total (2,102).

The main reason for imprisonment is drug trafficking, a federal crime.The majority of foreigners detained come from neighboring countries, Paraguay (1,193), Bolivia (653), Peru (631) and Uruguay (360).

Foreign prisoners from Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe receive less consulate assistance from than prisoners from Western Europe and the United States.

Foreign prisoners

5.7 %

The justice system is used to intimidate leaders of indigenous people reclaiming rights to their ancestral lands.

In 2012, Relmu Ñamku was accused of attempted homicide after throwing a rock at an official during a protest against an oil company. The company was seeking to displace her Mapuche community from their region, the Neuquén. The case was widely covered in the media and Amnesty International organized an urgent action for due process in Latin America and the United States. A multicultural jury acquitted her in November of 2015.

Since 2010, the Ezeiza federal prison has had a wing for transgender people. In addition, various transgender prisoners have been transferred to womens prisons thanks to a law enacted in 2011, allowing people to change their gender in the civil register. The PPN expressed reservations, believing public opinion and politics around transgender rights may change in future.

The PPN published a guide on how to conduct an internal body search on a transgender person. Although the law does not provide for same sex congugal visits, couples have the right to request them. In 2005, a judge declared prohibiting these visits to be unconstitutional.

1,139 people over the age of 65 are imprisoned in Argentina, according to the 2014 SNEEP report. A law enacted in 2008 allows people over 70 to serve their sentence under house arrest. These prisoners must be able to meet certain conditions to be elibible for house arrest e.g. appropriate housing, etc.Prisoners sentenced for crimes against humanity are ineligible to serve under house arrest after turning 70 years old. Because of these conditions, some prison inmates are over 80 years old.

Law N° 26.472 allows house arrest for the terminally ill or people with severe disabilities. Frequently, these people die before the house arrest is granted. Any decision to grant house arrest depends on the judge. 

People with disabilities receive little assistance from prison staff and depend on the goodwill of their co-prisoners for bathing, toilets or going outside for recreation.

The Inter-ministerial Mental Health Program of Argentina (PRISMA), established in 2011 by the Ministry of Health, is made up of psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. Currently, 64 inmates from Penitentiary Complex I at Ezeiza and 10 inmates from Complex IV participate in the program. They attend workshops on crafts, gardening, circus skills, cinema, and other subjects. Admission to PRISMA is granted through judicial proceedings or transfer from another prison in the country.

The OIP believes that people diagnosed with mental illness should be considered incompetent and sent to an institution with the capacity to treat mental illness.