Violence in Prison Systems in South America

The world in which we live is increasingly populated, complicated, and violent. With the proliferation of crime globally, the number of individuals behind bars, either awaiting trials or convicted is larger than it has ever been in any time of recorded human history (Carroll, 1998). One especially active prison community can be found in the nations of South America for a variety of reasons. Because of this, issues of human rights, prison reform, and the like come to the surface and demand closer analysis and discussion.

Ultimately, this research will accomplish the following: provide and support an explanation for the high rates of violence within many prison systems in South America and develop a set of “best practice” solutions to alleviate this violence and demonstrate how the recommendations are in line with legal standards that are emerging around the globe. Explanation for High Violence Rates within Many South American Prison Systems To begin, in fairness, it needs to be understood that no prisons, in even the most developed and civilized nations of the world, are pleasant places.

By the very nature of any prison, it is a place that is designed to remove from society those individuals who have been found to be a danger to that society. As such, a prison is essentially a storehouse for the worst that humanity has to offer: rapists, drug dealers, killers, thieves, and the list goes on and on. Obviously, when people of these types are put together in the same environment, it is akin to explosive chemicals being mixed together.

Even so, given the nature and purpose of prisons, there are still rights of individuals, basic living conditions and the like that must not be ignored, but are apparently an afterthought in South American prisons, creating a hotbed of violence when those held in the prisons, when abused and pushed to the breaking point, act out like preverbal children, destroying any person that they presume to be a threat to them (Katz, 2007). The first factor that contributes to the level of violence in South American prisons is the very nature of the inmates of the prisons.

Conceding the earlier point that prisons are not places for friendly, productive people to congregate, in South America, prisons are typically filled with the most hardened criminals imaginable- drug kingpins, paid assassins, and the like. Because many of the South American nations, while readily denied by the governments of these nations, have corrupt justice systems, wealthy criminals can often buy their way either to more comfortable prison accommodations, or avoid imprisonment outright. Therefore, the prisons are basically the equivalent of human trash bins (Katz, 2007).

Second, the prisons of South America themselves, from a facilities standpoint, are deplorable- not only are they typically overcrowded to the point of nearly bursting at the seams, they are also in most cases, according to United Nations inspectors, lacking in proper sanitation systems, heating/cooling, lighting and the basics of life such as food and suitable places to sleep and tend to personal grooming (Ramcharan, 2005). Thus, people who are antisocial to begin with are deprived of any semblance of humane treatment, thereby provoking them into becoming more and more aggressive.

This is often resulting in prisoners committing violent acts against each other, uniting to riot in the prisons which injures prison personnel, and makes the condition of the facilities worse than they were before. When brutal punishment is meted out as a consequence of acting out, more violence results as well. Lastly, but possibly most important from a human rights perspective, is the lack of the delivery of justice to South American prisoners. The root cause of this is twofold: depending upon the nation in question, the accused in a crime is not entitled to a swift trial or resolution of their case, nor are they allowed to be released on bail like certain accused criminals would in the United States, for example.

On top of this, even those who are awaiting trial cannot get to that point with any rapidity due to the massive overcrowding of the criminal justice system itself, much like the prisons themselves (BBC News, 2005). As if all of this is not bad enough, there are also untold numbers of individuals who have been falsely accused of crimes and locked away without due process of law, which could drive even the most civilized person to violent behavior (BBC News, 2005).

Having seen why the violence occurs in South American prisons, it is also possible to examine possible solutions to the violence, not only in the interest of international justice, but also from the vantage point that no matter what someone has done, they are entitled to basic human rights that they are stripped of in the prisons of South America. Best Practice Solutions to Alleviate the Violence Even if the prisoners of South America themselves are unable to alleviate the violent situations that exist, both the governments of the world and neutral organizations can play a role.

South American nations have been and indeed should continue to face economic sanctions from other nations as long as they refuse to continue to remedy the situations that have been proven to exist. Ultimately, they must be made to understand, in a peaceful way, that this treatment is unacceptable and must be changed. Internationally, organizations like the United Nations Center for Human Rights and Democracy are playing a key role in bringing to light the human rights violations and resulting violence of South American prisons and appealing to the leaders of those nations that are causing the violations to eliminate those factors that are stripping people of their rights, inciting violence, and contributing to instability in those nations (Ramcharan, 2005).

Indeed, this is the type of action that needs to take place- sometimes, the light of truth and the perseverance of the organizations like the UN that have the resources to bring about peaceful change need to do so for the best interests of all of society, wherever the problems may occur in the world. Conclusion As we have seen in this research, the violence that exists in the prisons of South America is not unique, but seems to be more pronounced and common because of the excessively poor conditions that exist in the prisons, the lack of swift justice and the sometimes total absence of any justice at all. Luckily, there is hope to resolve these issues with the help of the United Nations and others. Therefore, the efforts for reform must continue for the betterment of humanity.

Works Cited

  • Carroll, L. (1998). Lawful Order: A Case Study of Correctional Crisis and Reform. New York: Garland. Katz,
  • Johnathan M. (2007, June 18). Presumed Guilty? Latin American Prisons Overflow. Oakland Tribune Online.  Retrieved December 3, 2008 from the World Wide Web:
  • Latin America: Crisis Behind Bars (2005). Retrieved December 3, 2008 from BBC News Website:
  • Ramcharan, B. (2005). A UN High Commissioner in Defense of Human Rights: "No License to Kill or Torture". Boston: Martinus Nijhoff.