Sunday, August 02, 2009

Chile, Panama Lead Latin America in Incarceration Rates; Brazil Still Has Highest Total Number

While not as high as the U.S., a recent study has shown that Chile and Panama have the highest rates of imprisoned among their populations, with rates of 310 and 275 per 100,000, respectively. And I admit, I was somewhat surprised - I had expected Brazil to be higher (though it is fifth, with 226 per 100,000, behind El Salvador and Uruguay). On the other end of the spectrum, Bolivia has the lowest rates (85 per 100,000), followed by Guatemala (88), Paraguay (100), Ecuador (118), and Nicaragua (120).

Of course, extrapolating that data to actual population stats, Brazil's prison population is quantitatively higher than any other country in Latin America. What's more, statistics don't reveal the appalling conditions of Brazilian prisons (or elsewhere - I can't help but think that, with overcrowding going well above 120%, Panamanian prisons are also in bad shape). The report also makes several other observations that should be common sense, but still need to be said: that the crime rates are due to socio-economic factors like wide gaps between wealthy and poor, and not to a breakdown in societal morals; or that the death penalty (used in Guatemala and the U.S.) does not deter violent crime. I don't know if this report will accomplish any real change, but it does highlight the problems facing many countries in how to deal with crime, the appalling conditions many prisoners are facing, and the need to push hard for basic human rights for prisoners, too, no matter how heinous the crime.