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Argentina: Safeguarding the physical integrity of prisoners
Colloquium in Buenos Aires: Professor Andrew Coyle with Sr Victor Hortel, Director of the Federal Prison Service (centre), and Dr Francisco Mugnolo, National Prisons Ombudsman (right).
In common with many prison systems, the Federal Prison Service of Argentina is struggling with the challenge of how to balance its obligations to ensure the safety of prisoners with the right of prisoners to be held in conditions which are decent and humane. In certain circumstances a judicial order can be made to the prison authorities to make special provisions to “safeguard the physical integrity” (Resguardo de la Integridad Física - RIF) of named prisoners. A request for such an order can be made either by the prisoner or, more commonly, by the authorities. This may be because the prisoner him or herself is at risk or is vulnerable in some way or because the prisoner is thought to present a threat to others. In an increasing number of cases the response of the authorities to such an order is to hold the prisoner in virtual isolation.
The National Prisons Ombudsman’s office (Procuración Penitenciaria de la Nación) has challenged these arrangements by raising a collective habeas corpus action. In April 2012 the court ordered that the Federal Prison Service and the Ombudsman should enter into joint discussions with a view to agreeing a protocol for the proper management of prisoners subject to RIF. The protocol is to be submitted to the court for approval within six months.
These discussions began with a colloquium which took place in Buenos Aires on 5 and 6 July organised jointly by the Ministry of Public Defence, the Federal Prison Service and the Prisons Ombudsman. The organisers invited Professor Andrew Coyle to present a keynote address on “Principles and Good Practice in comparative systems”. Further discussions will continue in the forthcoming months.