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The Penal System

The treacherous road to Caranavi, Nor Yungas province, La Paz Department
Courtesy Inter-American Foundation (Kevin Healy)

In arriving at a verdict, the judge considers the nature of the crime committed and the existence of special circumstances surrounding the case before imposing a penalty or punishment. The judge must give special attention to the criminal's intent. Bolivia's Penal Code distinguishes clearly between felonies and misdemeanors. The former is committed voluntarily and in a spirit of malice; the latter, without malice. The Penal Code recognizes the following three types, or orders, of punishment that may be imposed on criminals, regardless of whether or not the offense was a felony or misdemeanor: corporal punishments that involve some form of restraint or restriction on the person of the offender, such as imprisonment; noncorporal punishments that call for nonphysical penalties, such as deprivation of a civil right, surveillance, bonding, or reprimand; and pecuniary punishments that exact a fine or other form of monetary payment.

Although the 1961 constitution abolished capital punishment, it was restored in October 1971 for terrorism, kidnapping, and crimes against government and security personnel. In 1973 the Supreme Court of Justice upheld the constitutionality of Article 109, one of several state security provisions of the Penal Code that entered into force in 1973, which mandates the death penalty, by firing squad, for any Bolivian who takes up arms against the nation, joins its enemies, or collaborates with the enemy in the event of a foreign war. In 1981 the death penalty was extended to drug trafficking. A death sentence could not be carried out, however, until the president decided against commutation. The president could commute the death penalty in favor of the second most severe punishment, which was thirty years at hard labor, with no recourse to pardon or clemency.

Thirty years at hard labor was also mandated under Article 111 (espionage) and Article 118 (sabotage). Under Article 133, terrorist actions carried a penalty of two to ten years in prison or, in the event of the death or severe wounding of the victim, twenty to thirty years. Engaging in armed actions against the security and sovereignty of the state was punishable under Article 121 by a penalty of fifteen to thirty years in prison. Article 128 provided that any attempt against the life or security of the president or other high government officials would be punishable by five to ten years of prison. Article 17 established that the penalties for drug-related offenses would never exceed thirty years' imprisonment. Most other crimes did not carry a greater penalty than ten years' imprisonment. At the request of a condemned individual, a judge could also choose to suspend a sentence or grant a parole or conditional liberty.

Bolivia's Penal Code also included a statute of limitations. A severe criminal offense could not be prosecuted unless the offender was brought to justice within ten years of the date of its commission. Judicial pardon did not exist in the Bolivian penal system, but both the president and Congress had this power in certain limited circumstances. Both were authorized to declare amnesty for political offenses, and Congress was empowered to pardon offenders in either criminal or civil cases, provided that the Supreme Court of Justice concurred.

Bolivia had several penal institutions, including the San Pedro national penitentiary (known as Panóptico) in La Paz and one in each of the nine departments. Most departments had jails to accommodate local offenders whose crimes were serious enough to warrant long-term imprisonment. Other facilities included a correctional farm at Caranavi in the Yungas, a reformatory for women at La Paz, and three reformatories for juveniles, one at La Paz and two near Cochabamba. These institutions, with the exception of the juvenile reformatories, were under the general supervision of the Ministry of Interior, Migration, and Justice, which assigned detachments of carabineers to provide guard and security forces.

Conditions at the Caranavi correctional farm, where prisoners engaged in common work in the fields during the day, were better than in most penal institutions in Bolivia. Regulations there were strict, and prisoners were tightly secluded in their cells at night under enforced silence. Communication with the outside world was regulated closely, and families were rarely permitted to visit inmates. Nevertheless, by being close to the source of food supply, the Caranavi prisoners had better meals than did inmates in urban prisons. The Women's Reformatory at La Paz, with a capacity for only thirty women, had the best conditions of all institutions in the system. It was operated under contract by a Roman Catholic order of nuns.

According to the Department of State, in 1989 there continued to be occasional reports of abuse of prisoners and detainees by individual police and security officers, although the Constitution prohibits torture and the Siles Zuazo, Paz Estenssoro, and Paz Zamora governments neither condoned nor practiced such activity. According to evidence made public in late 1989, forty or more severely mistreated prisoners were reported to have died and been secretly buried in a clandestine cemetery at the Espejos Rehabilitation Farm in Santa Cruz Department. Police, prison, and security personnel were rarely tried and punished for cruelty toward or degrading treatment of detainees. Corruption, malnutrition, and unsanitary conditions were endemic in Bolivia's underfinanced prison system. Although reportedly built at a cost of US$600,000, Santa Cruz Department's new Public Prison (Cárcel Pública) for juvenile delinquents, renamed the Santa Cruz Young Men's Rehabilitation Center (Centro de Rehabilitación de Varones Santa Cruz), was the site of inmate sabotage in early 1989.

Data as of December 1989

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