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El Salvador-The Penal System

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El Salvador Index

The 1983 Constitution reaffirms that the penal system shall be designed to rehabilitate prisoners rather than solely to punish them. Article 28 prescribes that "the state shall organize the penitentiaries with the aim of reforming offenders, educating them, and teaching them industrious habits, seeking their rehabilitation and the prevention of crime." Overall direction and administration of the prison system is under the jurisdiction of the director general of penal and rehabilitation centers, under the minister of justice.

As of the late 1980s, the prison system was composed of three national penitentiaries and at least thirty jails or preventive detention facilities distributed throughout the country. The federal government operated the penitentiaries, located in Ahuachapan, Santa Ana, and San Vicente. The penitentiaries were the principal incarceration institutions, housing approximately half of the total prison population. Other than the penitentiaries, the prison system was loosely organized and received little centralized guidance or control. The government published few statistics on prisons. Local authorities supervised subordinate facilities and had few restrictions on their authority over methods and procedures. Each of the country's departments had at least one jail or detention facility, with at least one in every departmental capital, although San Salvador had no facility for men. The two women's prisons were located at the town of Ilopango and Santa Ana; their inmates consisted mainly of prostitutes serving six-month terms. Prison facilities ranged from simple frame enclosures with little security and few amenities to well-built, professionally planned buildings with good protection and adequate accommodations.

In late 1988, El Salvador's security situation worsened. The FMLN, armed for the first time with some Soviet-made AK-47 assault rifles, actually had brought the war to its bloodiest level in two or three years by launching another countrywide guerrilla and terrorist offensive, which once again included assassinating mayors. FMLN guerrillas inflicted disproportionately high casualties on the army in attacks on installations such as the Fourth Infantry Brigade garrison at El Paraiso in Chalatenango Department and in a mortar barrage on a GN facility in San Salvador. Other FMLN actions in San Salvador included breaking criminals out of a jail and carrying out nightly terrorist bombings. FMLN leaders, including Villalobos, also opened an unusual diplomatic offensive by visiting several Latin American capitals. The army, for its part, was widely reported to have perpetrated a massacre, the first in three years, of ten peasants in the hamlet of San Sebastian in San Vicente Department, after accusing them of collaborating with the guerrillas. Under increasing criticism for its conduct of the war, the military underwent another orderly shakeup, with General Blandon being replaced as armed forces chief of staff by Colonel Ponce, a strong advocate of promoting economic development in the areas affected by the war. Under Ponce's command, the military was expected to become a more aggressive, offensive-minded force, but one placing greater emphasis on the "hearts and minds" campaign.

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As of mid-1988, no book devoted exclusively to Salvadoran national security topics was available. Relevant data can be derived mainly from disparate publications other than books, such as United States government or congressional reports, journal articles, newsletters, and newspaper reports, as well as Salvadoran legal documents. A few books proved to be useful. A good source for historical information on the Salvadoran military establishment, despite its strongly anti-United States policy bias, is Michael McClintock's The American Connection. Adrian J. English's Armed Forces of Latin America contains other useful historical and military data on the Salvadoran armed forces. More recent military data are provided in The Military Balance, an annual published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Informative 1988 reports prepared by the United States Department of State include The Situation in El Salvador. Discussions of El Salvador's human rights record are found in the Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1987 and publications of Americas Watch. The Committee on Foreign Affairs of the United States Congress has published the transcripts of numerous hearings on El Salvador since 1981, including Human Rights and Political Developments in El Salvador, 1987. (For further information

Data as of November 1988

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