Contributor(s)Prison Insider

Specific population

According to the General Direction of the Penitentiary System (DGSP), there were 20,697 prisoners in July 2016 compared to 8,158 in 2008. This is an increase of about 150%. The rate of imprisonment in 2008 was 60, and 115 in July 2016.

The rate of prisoner over-population reached almost 300% in July 2016 – whereas in 2010 it was calculated to be 159% -. The over-population rate is not the same in every prison. The Santa Teresita Detention Centre for women has a rate of 527%, the Detention Centre for men in Zone 18 has a rate of 514%,the Puerto Barrios’s Detention Centre rate is 403% while six other centres have rates between 201%and 283%.

As in other countries in the region, the high rates of over-population have to do with the state’s “tough on crime” policies, the abusive recourse to preventive detention, and delays in the justice system.

In May 2015, 48.6% of the prison population were untried prisoners. The average time spent in remand before facing trial is ten months.The reason is the delays of the justice system. According to the president of COPREDEH, Antonio Arenales Forno, nearly 4,000 persons - one-fifth of the prison population - could be released, either because they were sentenced for a minor offence, or because they have already served their sentence1.

Untried prisoners are not kept separate from convicted offenders. DGSP staff does not observe or assess people before admitting them to their assigned prison.

Police stations also serve as remand centres and they are not equipped to do so. In 2014, 190 people served their sentence in a police station, while in 2015, 231 (223 men and 8 women) did so 2.

  1. UDEFEGUA and OMCT, Report for the Committee against Torture - 55th Session, February 2015, p. 9 (in Spanish) 

  2. Human Rights Office, 2015 Annual Detailed Report, p. 101 (in Spanish) 

Pre-trial detainees

48.6 %

/ World Prison Brief

According to the General Direction of the Penitentiary System (DGSP), there were 1,987 women being held on 27 July 2016, i.e.9.6% of the country’s prison population.

There are two prison facilities dedicated exclusively to women:one for those in remand detention, the other for convicted offenders. There are thirteen mixed prisons that have separate areas for women.

Nine prison facilities for women are administered by the DGSP, and six others are overseen by the Civilian National Police (Policía Nacional Civil, PNC).

The prison facilities have a capacity for 980 women, which means the over-population rate is 200%. The facilities’ infrastructure is in very poor condition. There are no single cells. The women sleep in dormitory spaces sectioned off by bedsheets.

In Los Jocotes prison in Zacapa, inmates can access water two hours a day and are not permitted to use toilet facilities between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

In the disciplinary unit of the Santa Teresita Preventive Centre for Women, 82 inmates share one toilet.

Women are subjected to abusive body searches. They are forced to undress in the presence of male personnel and to undergo vaginal exams -by female guards- to verify that they do not hide drugs or weapons.

Children can stay with their mother until age four. In July 2016, 86 children (43 girls and 43 boys) were residing in Guatemalan prisons. The DGSP has no budget set aside to feed these children and to look after their health needs.A few local and international NGOs, as well as church groups, collect funds to provide for their basic needs.

Corinne Dedik, a researcher at the Centre for National Economic Surveys (Centro de Investigaciones Económicas Nacionales, CIEN), commented on the children who live with their mothers in prisons: “They are at an age when they copy everything they see. You can see it when they play. One play you see often is when they copy the periodic searches that the prison guards conduct to look for banned objects or substances, such as cell phones, alcohol and drugs. Three or four children play the guards and the others hide their toys hoping not to get caught.”1

The construction of a unit strictly for female inmates and their children - with 45 places for mothers and an equivalent number for their children -is currently underway. It is being supported by the European Community and should open in April 2017.

For further information on the detention conditions of women in Guatemala, see reports from the NGO Colectivo Artesanas

Female prisoners

9.6 %

/ General Office of the Penitentiary System

Correctional centres for minors are administered by the Secretariat of Social Well-Being (Secretaría de Bienestar Social, SBS). In 2012, the number of minors deprived of liberty was 746. This number increased to 1,092 in 2016 (32% over four years). The over-population rate is nearly 200%1.

There are four correctional centres for minors in Guatemala, which are all located in the Guatemala Department:

  • Centro Juvenil de Privación Provisional para Varones (CEJUDEP) or “Las Gaviotas”;
  • Centro Juvenil de Privación de Libertad para Varones Anexo II (CEJUPLIV);
  • Centro Juvenil de Privación de Libertad para Varones II (etapa II);
  • Centro Juvenil de Privación de Libertad para Mujeres (CEJUPLIM) or “Los Gorriones.

The minors are not differentiated on the basis of their legal situation (untried, or convicted). Gang members are separated from the rest of the minors.

Deprivation of liberty is not applied as a measure of last resort. Yet, the law on the protection of childhood and adolescence stipulates it. Procedural guarantees for minors are not respected either.

In October 2015, the Public Ministry and the local UNICEF Office jointly presented an approach on how to treat and provide a specialized follow-up of adolescent delinquents.

All the facilities are located in the capital area 2. Children from the outside regions find it hard to maintain their family ties.

In its 2015 report, the Human Rights Ombudsman Office (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos,PDH) described that the Las Gaviotas Centre has cells that“measure four by three metres,where there is also a bathroom and a single bunk bed, and where up to 23 adolescents live together, while the investigation process is being carried out[^prosecutor]. Neither this centre, nor the one at Los Gorriones has any open air spaces.

The number of staff is insufficient. At Las Gaviotas, for example, there are 55 guards for 487 minors, or, a ratio of 9:13. The lack of professional medical staff does not allow for personalised medical care.

The PDH points out that the correction centres do not offer real educational programmes and do not have any study rooms. There are not enough teaching materials nor sufficient teaching staff to meet the needs.

This results in minors spending an average of 23 hours a day locked in their cells. To maintain order, a model of military discipline is used, and youth are punished by having their heads shaved, for example.

The Court for minors confirmed in July 2016, that 90% of detained children are re-habilitated. It is no more than 40% when they are members of gangs. However, the Court did not provide precise indicators, such as the rate of recidivism to affirm this4.

  1. Minors deprived of hope, liberty and rights” in Prensa Libre, 24 July 2016 (in Spanish) 

  2. 73 percent of youth deprived of their liberty come from the metropolitan area” in La Hora, 18 August 2016 (in Spanish) 

  3. This is a day in Las Gaviotas, the prison for minors” in Soy 502, 24 September 2016 (in Spanish) 

  4. Insight Crime, “Guatemala Prison Programs Rehabilitate 70% of Minors: Report”, July 18th 2016 

Juvenile prisoners

5.3 %

/ Social Wellfare Secretary

In July, 2016, 677 foreigners were being detained in Guatemala (584 men and 93 women)1.

The largest number of foreign prisoners come from Salvador, a country bordering Guatemala: 178 men and 38 women from that country were detained in July 2016. Some belonged to gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha and the Barrio18.

Drug trafficking, aggravated robbery and homicide are among the most frequent crimes committed.

Money laundering is also frequently practiced in Central America 2. Article 4 of the the law against money laundering stipulates that the person responsible for this crime be punished with a prison sentence, as well as a fine equal to the total value of the money laundered. This results in a double penalty because of the fact that persons who have already served their sentence remain in prison due to their inability to pay the fine. The lack of employment in prisons and the absence of family ties prevent the offenders from paying their fines. This results in much longer time served than in the original sentence handed down.

Several organisations took legal action on 25 January 2017 to prove the partial unconstitutionality of Article 4 of the law on money laundering, on the grounds of the resulting double penalty. The Institute of Public Criminal Defense (Instituto de la Defensa Pública Penal, IDPP) is leading this initiative so that inmates who default on paying their fines may be released.

This section “Foreigners” was written by Patricia Vargas, lawyer and member of “Lawyers without Borders”.

  1. There are 677 foreigners kept in prison in the country” in La Prensa, 4 July 2016 (in Spanish) 

  2. 385 persons are detained in prisons for money laundering” in La Hora, 30 January 2017 (in Spanish) 

In 2015, the National Network of Sexual Diversity and HIV (Red Nacional de la Diversidad Sexual y VIH de Guatemala,REDNADS) identified the following problems in the country’s seven prisons:

  • “Trans” women do not report when they are victims of rape or sexual assault for fear of reprisal.

  • There are some informal social norms in detention centres for men: such as on visitation days, when“trans“ women cannot dress as they like because of the presence of parents and children visiting other inmates. .

  • There is frequent harassment, especially in detention centres for men. LGBTI persons are jeered, bullied and are used as slaves. 18% of the persons interviewed said they had been ill-treated, with sexual, physical and verbal abuse, isolation andimposition of religion.

  • Many lesbians are separated from their children because of prejudice. Any display of affection between persons of the same sex, such as holding hands or embracing, are forbidden and punished.

LGBTI inmates are not permitted private or family visits.

  • Guatemala is very much a patriarchal society and the prison system is a reflection of that society and its structure. Human rights violations that are reported to occur in prisons represent less than 1% of violations routinely carried out against the LGBTI population.

  • The violence committed towards the LGBTI population is invisible. In cases of rape, for instance, it is usually the offender who is victimised, or the truth about the facts is placed in doubt to make light of it. Violence is a common occurence and part of everyday life for “trans” women and homosexuals from the time they become incarcerated.

  • In 2012, a memo was circulated from the DGSP ordering that all male inmates have their hair cut. This measure was applied exclusively to “trans” persons, thus violating the prínciple of equality under the law. The OTRANS “Reinas de la Noche”, la Red Legal y la Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos organization filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court to have the memo revoked and called for educating prison employees on the rights of incarcerated “trans” persons; currently, prison staff is ignoring this disposition which constitutes a major legal precedent for the right of LGBTI people to mature freely as persons.

In 2015, organisations defending LGBTI rights developed minimum assistance standards for incarcerated LGBTI persons, but these have yet to be implemented. The frequency of staff turn-over and that of the heads of prison administration is part of the problem. The present plan is to make these obligatory through government legislation.

The Guatemala “LGBTI” section was written by lawyer Patricia Vargas, member of “Lawyers without Borders”.