Towards a governance model of ungovernable prisons: How recognition of inmate organizations, dialogue, and mutual respect can transform violent prisons in Latin America

José Luis Pérez Guadalupe, James Cavallaro, Lucia Nuñovero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle in a journalpeer-review

Abstract

Unfortunately, the most newsworthy aspect of detention centers in Latin America is their propensity to explode into horrendous violence: Fires, uprisings (or riots) that claim the lives of dozens of detainees, and clashes between rival gangs or organized criminal groups, and mass escapes. Several thousand have perished in prison violence in Latin America in the past few decades-a single incident at the Comayagua Prison claimed the lives of 362 inmates in Honduras in February 2012.1 The underlying conditions that give rise to these collective acts of violence are well known and studied. Scholars have assessed the relationship between severe overcrowding, limited resources and poor services, and self-rule by detainees.2 Such self-rule is aggravated by high levels of violence and illicit markets within prisons.3 The combination is highly volatile and poses grave dangers to the lives and wellbeing of detainees, authorities, and often the larger society beyond prisons. Prison administration, and the corresponding literature on detention centers, mainly addresses the battle for control within detention centers. Study of informal organizations in prisons in Latin America focuses on the exercise of control over daily life inside detention centers, including the extreme example of "self-rule by inmates."4 Unfortunately, the primary alternative to self-rule by detainees has been an authoritarian model in which prison officials control all aspects of inmates' lives, often through isolation, draconian policies, and violence.5 Until recently, prison administration in Peru, the country that provides the main case study for this article, has alternated between these extreme and dysfunctional models.6 This article considers a novel approach to managing volatile detention centers applied in Peru for a decade (2011-2020) with promising results and we contend, the potential to transform prisons in Latin America. © 2021 Catholic University of America. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-420
Number of pages54
JournalCatholic University Law Review
Volume70
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021

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