N° 39/08





            Santiago, Chile, August 28, 2008 — The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas conducted a visit to the Republic of Chile, at the invitation of that country’s government, from August 21-25, 2008. The delegation was composed of the Rapporteur, Commissioner Florentín Meléndez, and staff members of the Executive Secretariat of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The Commission would like to express its appreciation to the government and people of Chile for their cooperation and unrestricted access to prison facilities during the visit, and to Chilean nongovernmental organizations for the information and cooperation they provided.


            The purpose of the visit was to receive information and observe the situation of persons deprived of liberty in detention facilities in the country. The delegation met with the Minister and Deputy Secretary of Justice, the National Director of the Prison Guard Force, the National Director of the National Youth Service (SENAME), the Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the Alternate Magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Criminal Public Defender, Guarantee Judges of Santiago, the National Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Justice, the UNICEF Representative for Chile, and representatives of Chilean civil society organizations who work on issues related to persons deprived of liberty.


            In Chile two types of detention centers coexist: those operated by the private sector under concession and others operated directly by the State. The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty had the opportunity to visit centers that operate under both systems. The delegation visited two juvenile detention centers (the San Joaquín Center for Provisional Internment of Minors, in Santiago, and “Tiempo Joven,” in San Bernardo); three prisons operated under concession (the Santiago I Preventive Detention Center, the Rancago Prison Complex, and the Valdivia Prison Complex); two State-run centers (the South Santiago Prison Center and the Valparaíso Prison Complex); and women’s detention centers (the Santiago Women’s Prison Center and the women’s sections of the Rancagua and Valparaíso prisons). The IACHR Rapporteur observed that conditions in the privately run prison centers offer greater dignity for inmates and their families, as well as for the staff who work there. Overcrowding was not observed in the centers operating under concession, and there are adequate levels of nutrition and hygiene, internal security, appropriate separation of inmates by category, prevention of internal violence, and prison services that include medical attention and therapy, occupational activities, sports, workshops, and vocational training, among others.


            The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty observed some good prison practices in Chile. Commissioner Meléndez viewed as positive the Study and Work Centers initiative, as well as the legal reforms that led to the adoption of a new Code of Criminal Procedure and a new Adolescent Criminal Responsibility Law. The Rapporteur also underscored the periodic judicial presence in prisons, through weekly visits by some of the guarantee judges, semiannual visits by the Court of Appeals, and visits by judicial prosecutors, as well as the creation of the Criminal Public Defender’s Office. Finally, the Rapporteur expressed his satisfaction over the creation of prison hospitals and over the commitment and work of prison personnel.


            On the other hand, the delegation observed with concern that in all the detention centers it visited in Chile there is an excessive and unnecessary use of force in punishment, a systematic practice of physical mistreatment on the part of staff from the Prison Guard Force, or Gendarmería, and the use of isolation measures in subhuman conditions. It also observed with concern the widespread practice of denigrating and humiliating body searches of visitors, particularly of women and children, as well as prison stays for individuals with mental disabilities and elderly men and women up to 80 years of age. In addition, apart from the positive initiative of the Study and Work Centers (CETs), there continue to be serious deficiencies and limitations in social readaptation programs, including the limited percentage of the prison population with access to the CETs.


            Moreover, in the State-run prisons an unprecedented level of overcrowding was observed, as well as extreme unsanitary conditions that include unreliable or deficient systems for drinking water, nutrition, hygiene, and health, as well as terrible infrastructure conditions and serious deficiencies in or lack of real programs for social readaptation.


            The delegation also observed a high level of overcrowding in the San Bernardo juvenile center, which has a precarious infrastructure and unsanitary conditions. The Rapporteurship found the deficient provision of basic services in juvenile centers especially alarming, particularly in the area of education and health care, as well as recreation, sports, and social readaptation programs. Such centers do not have an appropriate separation of inmates by category either, and poor treatment, excessive use of force, and the use of isolation as punishment persist. The Rapporteurship observed that the Adolescent Criminal Responsibility Law does not have a corresponding specialized judicial and institutional system and that SENAME does not have an adequate budget.


            The delegation also verified a high level of overcrowding in the women’s detention centers in Santiago and Valparaíso; a precarious infrastructure and extremely unsanitary conditions in these centers; the lack of specialized medical attention for women and pediatric services for the young children who are with them in prison; and the presence of elderly women in centers that do not have adequate geriatric services.


            The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty encourages Chile to continue the process of modernizing and humanizing its detention centers, including those intended for women and juveniles, in order to guarantee the security and dignity of inmates, their families, and staff, and thus contribute to citizen security and the respect for human rights. It also would value the approval of a law on the implementation of sentences and applicable measures for juvenile offenders; the creation of a prison law in line with international standards; and the entry into force of the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.


            The IACHR Rapporteurship urges the State of Chile to investigate and punish, through independent and impartial bodies, the abuses of authority and mistreatment that take place within prisons and juvenile detention centers, and to adequately train prison guards in human rights issues and the use of force. It also recommends that the State guarantee the effective supervision and inter-ministerial oversight of services provided in privately operated prisons, with an emphasis on the areas of health, education, and work. The Rapporteurship also urges the State of Chile to deepen and expand its social readaptation policy in order to guarantee, with the participation of society, the effective reintegration of all those who may have been convicted of crimes and legal infractions. Finally, the ICHR Rapporteurship recalls the obligation of the State to guarantee the unrestricted respect for human rights in all the country’s detention centers. The principles that should guide public policies in this area are included in the document entitled “Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas,” approved by the IACHR in March of this year.




Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas (Spanish only)


Read this press release in Spanish / Lea este comunicado de prensa en español

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