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Peru Table of Contents


Penal System

In the second half of the 1980s, Peru's insurgency exacerbated the country's already intolerable prison conditions. One of the SL's early successes was its March 1982 raid on the Ayacucho Prison, freeing most of the prisoners, including several SL militants. Even though intelligence reports had alerted the GR that an attack was planned and Lima had sent reinforcements to Ayacucho, the local commanding officer chose to disregard the warning.

Another problem related to the prison policy of segregating the SL members from the other prisoners. The SL turned this policy to its own advantage by creating model minicamps of collective ideological reinforcement and community building within their separate cell blocks. Visitors reported an organization and an esprit de corps not found in any other part of the prisons. This separation probably facilitated coordinated SL prisoner riots at Lurigancho, El Frontón, and Santa Bárbara prisons in Lima in mid-June 1986, as well as the overreaction by GR jailors and the army reinforcements that were sent in, resulting in the killing of nearly 300 prisoners after they had surrendered. One justification offered at the time alluded to the GR's release of pent-up rage after having been continuously subjected to threats from the jailed militants that their comrades outside prison knew where the guards' families lived and would attack them if the inmates were not granted special treatment. Later, Minister of Interior Félix Mantilla accused PS prison officials at Canto Grande of aiding and abetting the July 1990 tunnel escape of forty-seven MRTA prisoners. After the April 1992 autogolpe, President Fujimori took steps to break up the blocks of SL militants in prisons, which provoked a riot in Canto Grande in May, resulting in the deaths of about twenty-five SL inmates and two police officials.

Peru's prisons, totaling 111 to 114 nationwide in 1990, were administered by 3,075 employees, with a guard staff made up of about 4,000 PS members (formerly Republican Guards). Article 234 of the constitution of 1979 emphasized the reeducation and rehabilitative functions of the penal system rather than simply punishment, with the goal of eventual reintegration of the prisoner back into society. However, that remained a distant goal in 1992 rather than a realized program.

Of a 1990 prison population estimated at 40,000, about half were in the twenty-five jails in Lima. Although the military government began an ambitious program of building new prisons and rehabilitating old ones, financial limitations left the project incomplete. In a survey of the prisons carried out in 1987 to assess their general physical state, only 13 percent (fourteen) were determined to be in good condition, 53 percent (fifty-nine) were average, and 32 percent (thirty-six) were poor (two Lima prisons were not surveyed). Among the most important prisons, all in Lima, were Lurigancho Prison, completed in 1968; Canto Grande Prison, built in the early 1980s; Miguel Castro Prison; and two womens' prisons--Santa Mónica Prison in Chorrillos District, dating from 1951, and Santa Bárbara Prison. The most dangerous criminals were sent to El Frontón, on a small island near the port of Callao, where the isolated blockhouse, known as La Lobera (Wolf's Lair), was one of the most dreaded in the country. Another important prison was the agricultural penal colony of El Sepa in the jungle of Loreto.

The twin challenges of a growing prison population and the government's continuing economic difficulties contributed to increasing deterioration of conditions in the prisons, a deterioration that reached crisis proportions by the end of the 1980s. The total prison population increased from about 15,000 in 1975 to about 40,000 by 1990. Peru's largest prison, Lurigancho, built for a maximum inmate population of 2,000, held nearly 7,000 in August 1990; others, such as Miguel Castro Prison, housed at that juncture over four times its installed capacity of 500. Some 168 children were jailed with their mothers in Chorrillos Prison.

At the time the Fujimori government began its term in July 1990, Inpe was spending less than US$0.10 daily per inmate on food--one meal a day or less. A thirteen-day hunger strike was conducted by some 9,000 prisoners in Lima in August 1990 to protest the situation. In response, the Fujimori government directed food donations to the prisons and increased food expenditures to US$0.55 per inmate in September 1990.

Of the many other problems, one of the most serious was the "custom in the judicial system to delay five years before handing down a verdict," as Inpe director Carlos Caparó said in September 1990. Another problem was the delay in releasing inmates who had completed their sentences, which was an estimated 10 percent of the prison population. In some cases, this was because prisoners could not pay the "fees" demanded for authorities to sign the five evaluations required to be released--medical, legal, social, educational, and psychological. With the deterioration in conditions, health problems in the prisons increased; forty inmates died of tuberculosis in Lurigancho alone between January and September 1990, and President Fujimori stated that about 5,000 of the country's prisoners had life-threatening diseases.

In September 1990, President Fujimori's office promulgated a decree setting up a special advisory group, the Special Technical Qualifying Commission, to review cases of prisoners held but not tried for less serious offenses (drug trafficking, terrorism, and murder were excluded) for possible presidential pardons. The first 97 received President Fujimori's official pardon in December 1990, with up to 2,000 more expected to be pardoned later. The new draft penal code was another major step toward resolving some penal system problems, but alleviation of many other issues would require infusion of new resources that were not yet available in 1992. Fujimori's April 1992 autogolpe further postponed any definitive resolution of this problem, other than immediately implementing a reorganization of Inpe.

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The Peruvian military and its relationship to politics and society has been the subject of numerous book-length studies and articles in English. In part, this is because the military takeover in Peru in October 1968 turned out to be the first and the most sustained of several long-term reformist military governments in the region during this period. Some two dozen books appeared in English describing and evaluating the twelveyear regime (1968-80), of which the most comprehensive to date in 1991 was The Peruvian Experiment Revisited, edited by Cynthia McClintock and Abraham F. Lowenthal. Daniel M. Masterson's Militarism and Politics in Latin America also covers the reform period in depth, as well as providing the most systematic and complete study available in English on the Peruvian military in the twentieth century. Among the many articles that summarize this period, David Scott Palmer's "Changing Political Economy of Peru Under Civilian and Military Rule" was quite helpful. Particularly useful studies in English include the annual country reports on human rights practices in Peru submitted to the United States Congress by the Department of State; Philip Mauceri's The Military, Insurgency, and Democratic Power; Adrian J. English's "Peru," in Jane's Armed Forces of Latin America; Carlos Iván Degregori's Ayacucho, 1969-1979; and The Shining Path of Peru, edited by Palmer. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of September 1992

Country Listing

Peru Table of Contents