Presidential Contenders Frei and Pi?era Voice Concern, But Offer No Concrete Proposals
Santiago hosted a seminar last Thursday focusing on the problems unique to Chile’s growing female prison population: “Women In Our Prisons.”
Chile, a country of 16 million people, has over 53,400 inmates, according to Human Rights Watch, including more than 4,500 female prisoners.
“It is a mistake to only consideronly male prisoners,” said Ana Maria Stuven, president of the NGO Abriendo Puertas, one of the event’s organizers. Stuven’s NGO has worked in the Santiago Female Prison for the past eight years.
While female prisoners make up only 8.5 percent of Chile’s national prison population, Stuven continued, they must not be marginalized or ignored as they have been in the past. “Years ago this problem wasn’t even spoken of,” she said.
The seminar was also a chance for Chile’s leading presidential contenders – center-left candidate Sen. Eduardo Frei and center-right candidate Sen. Sebasti?n Pi?era – to state their position on women in prison and Chile’s prisons in general.
Representing Frei, who is endorsed by the governing center-left Concertaci?n coalition, was lawyer Juan Pablo Hermosilla, coordinator for the Social Peace Program for Frei’s campaign organization group Oc?anos Azules.
Hermosilla noted that the Global Peace index ranked Chile 19th globally in 2008 – the most peaceful ranking in Latin America – yet Chile still has one of the region’s largest prison populations.
“We need to change the way we look at the situation,” he said. “We shouldn’t treat the system for women in the same way we do the men’s system, or the juvenile system.”
Daniela Godoy, who represented Pi?era’s Alliance for Chile coalition and who is part of Pi?era’s think tank Grupo Tantauco, proposed goals to reduce the female prison population. But like the rest of the seminar, she proposed few concrete steps to reach these goals.
A central issue of the seminar was the separation of imprisoned women and their families. According to Stuven, 90 percent of imprisoned women are mothers. When these women are separated from their families, she said, recidivism rates increase.
Making a bad situation worse, said Stuven, is the fact that 80 percent of children with imprisoned mothers become delinquents themselves.
“All the issues here are related,” said Undersecretary of Justice Jorge Frei.
The conference ended on a dire note when a member of the audience voiced his reaction to a video showcasing the positive aspects of Chile’s prison labor rehabilitation programs. “How can the government parade its prison system as part of Chile’s bicentennial celebration when so many of the country’s citizens are locked in a cycle of imprisonment?” he asked.