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Development of the Argentine Penitentiary Policy -- Part 2: History of Argentine Corrections.

Editor's Note: This is the second of a multi-part series on the Argentine penitentiary policy issued in February 1995. It is, by current political standards practiced in much of the world, a remarkable document. Part 1 covered the conceptual framework and principles used as the base of the new policy. This segment is intended to review the history of Argentine corrections and to show how a careful review of that history was used in the creation of the policy. This information was taken from material used in the development of the policy and items quoted come from the formal presentation of the policy presented by the president of Argentina, the minister of justice, the secretary for penitentiary policy and social rehabilitation, and the undersecretary for penitentiary policy and social rehabilitation.

The Argentine government proudly proclaims in its policy document, "Ever since it became a nation, and within the parameters of each historical period, Argentina has had a modern concept of the meaning of punishment." In 1811, the decree regarding the security of the individual issued by the triumvirate stated. "Seeing that jails are meant for security, not for punishment, any mea-sure applied under the pretext of being preventive, and which only serves to torment the inmates, will be severely punished." The spirit of that decree was included in the writing of the Argentina Constitution during the Constitutional Assembly of 1813.

Article 19 of the Argentina Constitution states, "No individual may be compelled to make a statement which may harm his interests, nor may he be detained without an order issued by the competent authorities. The rights of a person on trial shall be defended: the absolute right of the individual against unwarranted entry into his domicile, and his right to private correspondence and papers. Only a law will determine the cases in which his domicile may be entered or searched. The death sentence for political reasons, torture and lashing shall be abolished forever. The country's prisons shall be clean and healthy, used for security, not as punishment, and the judges who authorize any measure which, tinder the pretext of its being preventive, torments the prisoners, will be made responsible for their action."

The penal code of 1886 specified criminal penalties to be the death sentence, hard labor, imprisonment, detention, deportation, exile, disqualification and fines, as well as stipulated the place of punishment. The current penal code in force, adopted in 1921, reduced the list of penalties to confinement, imprisonment, fines and disqualification. It also introduced security measures governing the non-indictable, multiple recidivists and minors and included condemnation and prison parole. In 1985, it was stipulated that recidivists from the capital and northern territories would be removed to the Southern territories, giving more importance to the Ushuaia Prison (Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the Americas).

Construction of the Buenos Aires Province Jail began in 1877 and when Buenos Aires was federalized in 1880, it became the National Federal Prison. The prison was "built in the form of an incomplete radial system, it consisted of five pavilions surrounding an observation center, each of them two floors high, each with 120 cells, and two parallel pavilions with two floors and 52 cells each, or a total of 704 individual places." The prison also contained workshops, common areas, administration, an armory and a hospital. It used the Auburnian system, which means that inmates are with other inmates for work and meals as opposed to the Pennsylvania system, in which inmates were isolated from others during their sentences. The prison director was given the title of governor and was appointed "with the Senate's approval." The title and appointment process, as well as the size and complexity of the prison, indicates the importance given to the problem of prisons during those early years. The National Federal Prison was dosed in 1947.

In 1918, the Sponsor Organization of Released Prisoners was established in the federal capital and it continues to operate today. This prompted the establishment of other organizations dedicated to helping released inmates in Latin America. In 1922, the penal code entrusted the sponsor organization with supervising individuals released on parole and later, with the supervision of indicted people. In 1977, the sponsor organization was given the task of conducting social and environmental studies and in 1992, the Criminal and Correctional Court of the Federal Capital requested that the organization carry out a social, medical, psychological and criminological study of individuals tried under the law on narcotics. Provisions of the law also established measures for the interruption of trial and probation, allowing the sponsor organization to play an important role in the treatment provided by prisons. Groups similar to the sponsor organization in the federal capital have been assembled in the provinces and a wide network of these organizations cover the entire country. All of them supervise offenders released on parole and participate in the treatment of individuals on probation. In 1983, the existing sponsor organizations and post-prison institutions (privately operated facilities for ex-offenders) formed the Argentine Federation of Post-Prison Institutions. They have drafted legislative bills and helped in the establishment of new sponsoring organizations.

The current National Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service evolved from the Superintendency of Prisons and Correctional Establishments, created in 1924, which became the Directorate for the Inspection of Prisons in 1931. The single nature of the federal system was stipulated by law in 1933 and modified in 1935 and 1947. A system of progression in five stages was established, consisting of: observation, imprisonment, guidance in a penal colony or industrial prison, a testing period and reinstatement of parole under supervision. Scientific studies of offenders and the individualization of prison treatment were further consolidated. By 1947, inmates no longer were transported in irons or dressed in striped uniforms and the discipline in jarls was made less strict. The National Penitentiary School also was created in 1947. And in the province of Buenos Aires, a law was enacted governing the execution of punishment. This was the "first law which takes comprehensively into account the execution of punishment (readjustment, social service, organization of the establishments and creation of the Institute for Education and Criminological Research)."

To complete the subject of execution of punishment, it remains necessary only to summarize the most pertinent matters related to prison techniques, starting with a clear definition of the desired aims and the means to achieve them: The National Penitentiary Law, enacted in January 1958, which is complementary to the penal code, is a suitable guide for institutions that are participating in the execution of punishment involving deprivation of freedom, in their aims to re-educate the offenders in their charge. This complementary law attempts to make more uniform the basic standards governing the Argentine prison system. Its text includes the existing constitutional provisions regarding this subject as, for example, the contents of the international treaties signed by our country, the doctrines and the recommendations made in international conferences and especially the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted during the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Geneva in 1955.

Article 1 of the National Penitentiary Law provides that "the execution of punishment involving deprivation of freedom has as its aim the social rehabilitation of the prisoners. The prisons system shall use such preventive, curative, educational, scientific and other available measures as may be necessary to meet the needs of each specific case." Pursuant to this law, the system is divided into three progressive stages: observation, treatment and testing. Treatment is to include: guidance, socialization, a period prior to giving full trust and full trust. During the testing phase, offenders are allowed to leave the prison for short periods and are given limited privileges.

In 1993, the executive branch of the government of Argentina created by decree the Office of Penitentiary Ombudsman, "who has the task of protecting the human rights of the inmates in the Federal Penitentiary System."

The above history has been presented to show how it has been used to help create and guide the development of the National Penitentiary Policy. Following the pattern, on July 6, 1994, the executive branch of the government of Argentina created by decree, within the Ministry of Justice, the Office of the Secretary of Penitentiary Policy and Social Rehabilitation and gave it the following responsibilities:

* To provide assistance to the Ministry of Justice in the implementation of the penitentiary policy and reform and in the execution of punishment;

* To direct the studies and activities related to penitentiary problems, the penitentiary system and social rehabilitation policies;

* To assist the Ministry in drafting the laws that the Ministry may consider necessary in the area of criminal procedure, criminal execution and criminology;

* To act as a liaison between the Ministry of Justice, the National Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service and the penitentiary services in the provinces;

* To foster the operations of governmental and private organizations that sponsor released inmates and their activities related to the treatment of these individuals in society;

* To supervise cases of amnesty and commutation of sentences;

* To foster the development of common policies with neighboring countries in the area of execution of punishment; and

* To foster joint activities with international, regional, national and provincial institutions in the field of research, training, in-service training, and specialized studies in penitentiary and social rehabilitation matters.

Next month, Part 3 will describe the current correctional system in Argentina and will provide a review of the history of Argentine corrections. It also will demonstrate how a careful review of that history was used in the development of the Executive Plan for the National Penitentiary Policy.

Gary Hill is president of CEGA Services Inc. and chairman of ACA's International Relations Committee.
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Author:Hill, Gary
Publication:Corrections Compendium
Geographic Code:3ARGE
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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Previous Article:New Challenges in Evaluating Our Sentencing Policy: Exploring the Public Safety Nexus.
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