Friday, May 24, 2024

ARGENTINA | 23-04-2024 16:04

Prison breaks in Buenos Aires City: 19 inmates escape in 20 days, many convicts at large

Fugitives on the run in Argentina – overcrowding at police stations in and across the capital allows detainees to escape from jail.

Fugitives are on the run in the nation’s capital: in only 20 days, the number of prison breaks in Buenos Aires City has reached half the total of breakouts last year. In a period spanning March 31 to April 20, 19 detainees escaped – in the whole of 2023, there were only 41 breakouts.

The data reflects a security crisis at the 70 police stations and 34 warden’s offices in Buenos Aires City, where overcrowding has reached dangerous levels. Currently, the number of people in jails doubles the spots available.

The situation is so dramatic that, in late March, more than 200 detainees were spending 24 hours a day handcuffed at temporary sites, which include the use of offices, gazebos, warehouses and basements, Perfil reported last week.

The problem is also sparking an unprecedented controversy between two politicians who are from the same political party: PRO hardliners Patricia Bullrich and Waldo Wolff.

The first stone was cast by Bullrich, the national security minister. She claimed that the Federal Penitentiary Service provides “a quota of 90 spots every day for inmates in Buenos Aires City,” which she said are not always taken up. 

Wolff, the City security minister, responded immediately: “First of all, it's not 90 detainees per day, but per week; and secondly, we don’t need to have inmates, that’s the wrong basis” for resolving the problem.

Far from finding a solution for the overcrowding issue at local police stations and warden’s offices, the stasis has allowed prisoners to take advantage. 


Prison breaks

The run of prison breaks began with a mass escape at City Police Station 1 B, in San Telmo, on March 31. Eleven detainees escaped and only three were recaptured (two within a few minutes and the other, hours later). The other eight are still wanted.

The following day, two suspected criminals fled Warden’s Office 3 in Balvanera, after cutting down the grill of a cell.

On April 9, there was another large escape involving four inmates at Police Station 6 B in Caballito. According to police sources, the group forced their way through a glass door at the station and climbed a dividing wall. 

Two of them were recaptured, but the other two are still on the run. They are Nelson Nicolás Riquelme, 32, and Jonathan Coma, 29, who escaped in a Ford EcoSport van which was waiting outside.

On Monday, April 15, two inmates at Police Station 12 C in Villa Urquiza managed to escape custody without major inconveniences. 

Héctor Fernando Montoro, 37, and Javier Mauricio García, 35, broke out after filing down the bars in their cell. Police officers only noticed their escape when doing a headcount. 

Montoro had been arrested in late November last year for robbery, García for a misdemeanour “bearing a firearm for civilian use.”

According to police sources, neither of them were recaptured, with their names joining a list of 12 convicts who have escaped recently and remain at large. 


Breaking down the numbers

Though overcrowding at Argentina’s jails is nothing new, the number of breakouts is directly related to the number of detainees. 

City police sources told Perfil that “in 2023, there were a total 41 breakouts,” highlighting that there had been more arrests for robbery and theft.

According to data from the National Penitentiary Attorney’s Office, as of March 31 there were 1,940 people imprisoned in the City. Of that number, 1,246 were detained at warden’s offices, 459 at local police stations and 235 were awaiting transfer to larger jails. The latter group remain handcuffed 24 hours a day.

The most recent data from the City Police shows that 2,001 individuals were detained – almost double the number of spots: 1,041 (798 at warden’s offices and 243 at police stations).

According to the report, 57.9 percent of inmates (1,124) are on remand, just 13.6 percent (264) are actually serving jail time and 28.5 percent (552 people) are awaiting a court ruling regarding their case. The average time spent at warden’s offices is 127 days, with a maximum of 970 days. 

Of those detained, 96.8 percent are male, 3.2 percent female and 0.1 trans. Based on age, the prison population is predominantly young, with an average age of 33.5 years.


Penitentiary emergency

The City’s jails are far from the only ones that are struggling from years of neglect. Prison infrastructure nationwide is insufficient and often obsolete. 

Argentina’s National Security Ministry recently extended the declaration of a “penitentiary emergency” by two years, warning about overpopulation and overcrowding at federal prisons.

Resolution 254/2024 warns that the problems that motivated the declaration of an emergency situation in 2019, and its extension in 2022, do not only remain, they have been exacerbated in the time that has passed.

According to official government data, the Federal Penitentiary Service currently houses 11,453 people against a capacity of 11,361 spots. There are a further 4,625 detainees waiting to enter the prison system. 

The national government’s resolution is aimed particularly at the City, which has not finalised the transfer of responsibility for the criminal courts to its scope, even though the Supreme Court established that its status to use national capacity is temporary following the 1994 constitutional reform.

Currently, 5,564 people detained under sentences issued by City courts remain in custody within the federal service, which takes spots away from other inmates.



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