Media Center

Press Release


  October 16, 2003

Without adequate investment to remedy problems in the hemisphere’s penitentiary and prison systems, societies “could squander already scarce resources putting criminals behind bars,” Secretary General César Gaviria of the Organization of American States (OAS) warned today as he opened the first-ever meeting of senior penitentiary and prison officials of the Americas.

The meeting was convened at OAS headquarters in Washington to share information and experience in formulating, implementing and evaluating penitentiary and prison policies. The delegates from OAS member states are also considering a proposal for a permanent Internet-based information exchange network.

“Penitentiary and prison policies deserve special attention, on humanitarian grounds and in order to fight crime more effectively and efficiently,” Gaviria stressed, noting how governments have tended to give priority to health, education and basic services or infrastructure when allocating scarce resources. He said several studies underscore “the heavy burden of recidivism and the growing phenomenon of organized crime inside prisons” and noted that “this reveals the flaws inherent in current approaches to reintegrating and rehabilitating prisoners and monitoring and controlling them.”

Pointing to Latin America’s rising crime rates, which several studies show to be “more than double the rate in any other region,” Gaviria described the absence of a hemispheric forum of senior prison and penitentiary officials as a “major oversight.” He commended the hemisphere’s justice ministers and attorneys general, however, for moving to remedy that situation by calling this meeting.

The OAS Secretary General also spoke about decisions often taken without the benefit of direct input and the valuable experience of officials engaged in the problems of penal systems.

The two-day meeting is discussing such issues as penitentiaries and prison systems; criminal policies and capacity problems; and treatment, reintegration into society and problems inside detention centers.

Reference: E-201/03