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Peru: Authorities debate overcrowding in prisons

08-04-2014 Feature

The Peruvian National Penitentiary Institute (INPE), in conjunction with the ICRC, held a round-table debate on overcrowding in Peruvian prisons in January 2014. Around 50 high-level government officials and representatives of civil society discussed possible emergency measures to tackle the problem.

Silvana Mutti, head of the ICRC delegation in Lima, with José Luis Pérez Guadalupe, head of the INPE (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario, National Prisons Institute), and Walter Albán, minister of the interior. 

Silvana Mutti, head of the ICRC delegation in Lima, with José Luis Pérez Guadalupe, head of the INPE (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario, National Prisons Institute), and Walter Albán, minister of the interior.
© CICR / K. Navarro

“The situation is worrying. We’re taking in ever-increasing numbers of prisoners without having anywhere to put them. The whole prison system is struggling to cope,” said        Dr José Luis Pérez Guadalupe, president of the institute.

For the ICRC, prison overcrowding is a global problem, and not only because there are too many people in prison who lack adequate accommodation. Overcrowding severely limits prisoners’ access to basic necessities, such as clean water, toilets, showers, food and health care, and hinders their reintegration into society after their release. It also complicates the task of maintaining order and security in prisons.

The debate, entitled “Emergency measures to address the crisis of overcrowding in penal institutions,” focused on the need for government policies in this area and on measures that could be implemented in the short, medium and long term. Particular emphasis was placed on the problems of excessive delays in judicial proceedings and the indiscriminate use of “preventive detention,” along with the need to improve prison infrastructure and provide alternatives to imprisonment, such as electronic tagging and community service.

In addition to INPE officials and ICRC representatives, the speakers included Dr Alejandro Marambio, former director of the Argentine Federal Penitentiary Service, and Dr Lucía Dammert, professor and researcher at the University of Chile, who shared their experience and recommendations for making prisons more humane and taking steps towards effective resocialization of inmates.

The Peruvian minister of the interior, Dr Walter Albán, the deputy minister of justice and human rights, Dr Jorge Pando, and the three former presidents of the INPE, Wilfredo Pedraza, Gino Costa and Javier Bustamante, took part in the round-table as guests.

The 50 participants had an opportunity to put forward and debate proposals for addressing prison overcrowding, which, according to the INPE, reached 119% in January 2014. This means that the penitentiary system had no room for 36,881 of the 67,891 inmates held in 68 prisons nationwide.

The INPE considers it necessary to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the systemic crisis caused by overcrowding in the short term. It believes that the “Ten measures for reforming the penitentiary system,” presented two years ago, can be implemented. The institute also suggests that an overall perspective on penal institutions and prisoners be incorporated into a penal and prison policy for the medium and long term.

For over five years, the ICRC has implemented a strategy of strengthening the INPE in order to promote a change in its institutional culture. The aim is to encourage prison officials to adopt better practices, based on minimum international standards of prison management, and to deal with overcrowding as a problem that has to be addressed through emergency measures.