Women in Prison in Argentina: Causes, Conditions, and Consequences

Author: 
Sital Kalantry

In many countries around the world, including Argentina, the number of women who are deprived of their liberty has risen over time and has increased disproportionately in comparison to male prisoners. In Argentina, the number of female prisoners within the federal system increased 193%, while the male population rose 111% from 1990 to 2012. Nonetheless, little research has been done to understand why there has been such a dramatic increase in women’s incarceration. At the same time, international and domestic laws governing prisons and prison policies and practices have traditionally been designed for men. In 2010, however, the United Nations adopted the first international standards relating specifically to women prisoners – the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Female Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules). The Bangkok Rules specifically call for research to be conducted on (among other things) the causes of women’s imprisonment, the characteristics of women in prison, and the impact on children.

This Report focuses particularly on the causes and conditions of women’s imprisonment, and consequences for children of incarcerated mothers in Argentina. In undertaking research for this Report, the authors developed two surveys, a General Prison Population Survey that was administered to nearly 30% of all women prisoners (246 women) in Argentina’s federal prison system (attached as Annex 1) and a Co-Residence Program Survey which received responses from 26 women residing with their children in prison (attached as Annex 2); conducted site visits to two women’s prisons in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and interviewed women prisoners, judges, academics and civil society members. Justice Elena Highton de Nolasco, the Vice President of the Supreme Court of Argentina, invited us to conduct this study and provided us with full and open access and cooperation.

This Report focuses solely on the federal prison system in Argentina, known as the Servicio Penitenciaro Federal (SPF), while the vast majority of the people deprived of their liberty are held in provincial jails across the country. As of April 2012, the SPF detained 9,693 prisoners in 34 federal prisons. Of these, 9% (or approximately 872 SPF prisoners) were women.