I.        BACKGROUND


          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights resolved at its 85th and 86th Period of Sessions to establish a working group to conduct studies of prison conditions in the Americas.  The working group was established and has been examining prison conditions, practices and related legislation pertaining to the same.  At the conclusion of its examination, the Commission will issue a report of its study of prison conditions, and draft an instrument which would establish a uniform code of minimal conduct and standards to serve as a model for member states, thereby ensuring consistency with international law and regional practice.  It is envisioned that this model code of prison conduct will ultimately lead to a more progressive development in this area in the Americas.


          To assist the working group in its study of prison conditions, a detailed questionnaire pertaining to prison conditions was sent to the governments of the member states seeking their cooperation in complying with the Commission's resolutions, and a separate questionnaire was sent to a number of non-governmental groups for their input in this study.


          The governments which have responded to the Commission's questionnaire on prisons to date are:  Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, The United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.


          We strongly urge the remaining member states that have not responded to the jail questionnaire to do so by the Commission's next period of sessions.


          To date the Commission has also received information from various non-governmental groups relating to the same.  This brief preliminary report was compiled from the responses to the questionnaire and information received from non-governmental groups and observations from on-site visits to countries in the Americas.  This report will be updated and expanded in a final report to include the receipt of more information from the parties concerned.  This report merely identifies areas of concern, and is not intended to be an analysis of prison conditions in the Americas.




          1.       Accommodation - From the information received, prisons, detention centers and lock-ups in the Americas are overcrowded, and this is a critical area of concern which needs to be addressed.  Some indicators attributable to the overcrowding are:  Outdated judiciary systems which need to be reformed: pre-trial detention--the continued practice of detaining persons awaiting trial instead of employing other conditions for pre-trial release; mandatory minimum sentences; the increase in drug related and violent crimes; lack of financial resources.  Beds and bed linen appear to be a scarce commodity in some OAS countries for detainees and prisoners.  In some cases inmates and detainees sleep on the ground without beds or bed linen.



          2.       Juveniles - In most countries juveniles are housed with adult detainees and prisoners and are not separated from them.


          3.       Mentally ill and insane detainees and prisoners - In most of the member states these individuals are housed in the general population.


          4.       Medical and dental services - In some countries there appears to be a lack of adequate services to inmates and detained persons.


          5.       Food - In some countries the governments provide nourishment, in others the family members provide the detainees and inmates with food.


          6.       Employment - This is available in some countries only to prisoners who have been convicted of crimes and are serving prison sentences.


          7.       Vocational and rehabilitative programs - In some countries one or more of these programs are available to inmates serving prison sentences and are not available to detained persons.


          8.       Visitation - The information received indicates that prisoners are allowed visitation by family members and friends.


          9.       Recreational facilities - In some countries only prisoners serving sentences are allowed to participate in recreational activities.  These services are not available to detained persons awaiting trial.


          10.     Discipline - The information received indicates that prison officials in some countries utilize non governmental and non court mandated forms of discipline in disciplining detained and incarcerated persons.  These range from corporal punishment to less physical means.


          11.     Violence - In some countries gang related violence among prisoners is rampant.


          12.     Legal representation - This appears to be lacking or inadequate for both detained and incarcerated persons.


          The areas identified above will be expanded in a final report upon the receipt of additional information from the member states concerned.






          The Organization of American States and its precursor, the International American Conference, share a historical legacy of promoting and advancing the rights of women.  For example, the Commission of Women was established during the Sixth Conference of American States (Havana, 1928), and was the first official intergovernmental agency created to work toward the full realization of women's rights.  The Seventh International Conference of American States (Montevideo, 1933) adopted the world's first treaty concerning the rights of women, specifically concerning the designation of nationality of women.  Most recently, the Plan of Action adopted pursuant to the Summit of the Americas identified the promotion of "policies to ensure that women enjoy full and equal legal rights" as a priority objective within the hemisphere.


          As the principal organ of the OAS charged with the promotion and protection of human rights, the IACHR considers efforts to ensure that women fully and equally enjoy their human rights to be an integral part of its mandate.  Accordingly, special attention has been devoted to this subject in certain special studies and country reports over the years, and where appropriate, in the processing of individual cases as well. 


          During its Eighty-fifth Regular Period of Sessions, held from January 31 to February 11, 1994, the Commission decided to advance its analysis of the human rights situation of women through the preparation of a report analyzing the situation in the hemisphere with respect to de jure and de facto discrimination against women which may arise within member state legal systems.  Specifically, the project is designed to assess the compatibility of member state legislation, and juridical or other practices with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.  While these instruments guarantee the rights and freedoms of all individuals, certain domestic legal provisions and practices continue to hinder the full and equal enjoyment by women of their human rights.  The American Declaration and the American Convention reflect the undertakings of member states to respect the rights of individuals on a nondiscriminatory basis.  This study will examine how state practice measures up to this broad commitment, and corresponds to individual rights protections which specifically affect the situation of women. 


          Commission Member Claudio Grossman was designated by the plenary as Special Rapporteur on the subject of women's human rights, and is directing the preparation of this study.  The Special Rapporteur will present the results in a report, which will guide the Commission's adoption of recommendations to member states aimed at enhancing compliance with the inter-American human rights norms which protect the rights of women.


          One of the initial activities undertaken in connection with this study was the convocation of a Meeting of Experts, on May 15 and 16, 1995, to advise the Rapporteur on the design and dissemination of a questionnaire to elicit information about national legislation and practices affecting women.  The questionnaire, once completed, will be sent to the member states, non-governmental organizations and other interested institutions and individuals throughout the hemisphere.  The Meeting of Experts, convened by the Rapporteur in San JosÚ, Costa Rica, was carried out in collaboration with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights and its Executive Director, Dr. Antonio Canšado Trindade.


          A Second Meeting of Experts is scheduled for March 30, 1996.  This expert group will revise and refine the draft questionnaire compiled by the first Meeting of Experts, and will provide further suggestions on the implementation of the study.


          In conjunction with this Second Meeting, the Commission is sponsoring a conference entitled "Women, Human Rights and the Inter-American System: An Agenda for Action," to be held on March 29, 1996.  The conference will be co-sponsored by the Commission of Women of the OAS, the Pan-American Health Organization, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights and the Washington College of Law.  The themes to be addressed are: the prevention, punishment and eradication of violence against women; women and the right of political participation; approaches to discrimination against women; and strategies for responding to the results of the International Women's Conference held in Beijing in 1995.


          In March of 1994, the Secretariat contacted the member states in order to inform them of the planned study and to solicit initial submissions of information.  Responses were received from Paraguay and Costa Rica; information was received from Argentina, The Bahamas, Barbados, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and El Salvador; Venezuela indicated that it was in the process of compiling information to transmit.  The information supplied has been helpful in the development of the project, and will continue to be important to the substantive research to come.  The Commission appreciates the interest and collaboration on the part of the member states, and understands it to be a reflection of the priority which is assigned to this topic generally throughout the hemisphere.  The questionnaire which is under development will seek information complementary to that which has been presented, and will seek to focus the study on areas of special concern in relation to the norms of the inter-American human rights system.  The Commission looks forward to the continued cooperation of the member states in this endeavor.


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