28 October 2008

Argentina's Growing Female Prison Population

The female population in Argentinean prisons in the past 15 years grew approximately 240% against the 145% growth in the male prison population. In the federal prisons alone, there are 1,019 female prisoners today; 18 of them are pregnant and 80 are imprisoned together with their children of less than four years. In the federal sector, there are 86 children living in prison. In the province of Buenos Aires, the female prison population is 933 and the number of children living in provincial prisons is not known.

Sixty per cent of women in federal prisons are in preventive custody, without trial. The great majority of the female prison population in the federal sector is detained for non-violent crimes: for example, 68% of the cases are for offences under the narcotics law, that is to say when the women become so-called ‘mules’. In the province of Buenos Aires, 80% of the 933 women prisoners are detained without any sentence.

The imprisoning of women has a different and direct impact not only on them but also on their families, in particular on the children in their charge. The deteriorating prison conditions and the level of anguish and anxiety that this causes can affect the physical and mental health of the pregnant women and their children. The children who live together with their mothers in the prison establishments can maintain their maternal links but at the cost of living in a prison environment and interruption of daily contact with the family. Moreover, when they complete four years of age, they have to leave prison and, if there is no family or trusted person to take charge, are diverted to substitute families.

The children who do not stay together with their mother in prison also suffer negative consequences. Different studies have shown that the children of imprisoned women suffer a great deal of psychological problems: depression, hyperactivity, aggressive or submissive behaviour, shyness, regression and eating disorders among others.

In November 2007, the Chamber of Deputies half-sanctioned a plan to establish home arrest for pregnant women and who had children below five in their charge. In December a Senate commission gave a favourable judgment but the Senate as a whole has not dealt with the project.

Source: Argenpress

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