Vidal promises sweeping penitentiary reform


A day after purging high-ranking officers, governor says efforts are only just beginning

Buenos Aires Governor María Eugenia Vidal has promised that her decision to purge the upper echelons of the Buenos Aires Penitentiary Service (SPB) in one fell swoop was only the beginning of a broader reform that will include audits of incoming brass and a wholesale revision of the 15,000 employees in the service.
“We know that this carries risks, but these measures were not taken earlier because there was connivance,” insinuating once again that public officials had tolerated or participated in abuses by the SPB. “The political sphere has not spoken for years about how the Penitentiary Service was working. In 30 years of democracy, nobody wanted to address this reform.”
Vidal spoke yesterday alongside her Security Minister Gustavo Ferrari, whom will now have near absolute authority over the SPB until a new leadership is installed.
On Monday the provincial government relieved of duty 132 high-ranking officials of the SPB, which manages the province’s prisons and has a separate command structure from the Bonaerense (Buenos Aires province) police which the Vidal government is also reforming. “Until the 10th of December the SPB was self-governing. Fighting against crime is to fight against corruption” she added, saying that not only were the brass removed overnight but that a reform bill was being sent to the provincial legislature that would be comprehensive. The governor also expressed concerns about the SPB’s apparent lack of respect for human rights standards.
In the coming months an external audit will take place that will also examine the new operational chiefs as well as the heads of the 55 prisons, and officers are on a probation of sorts. Criminal record checks will be conducted on 15,000 officers and internal reviews will be undertaken to examine management practices and prison conditions.
Vidal defended the appointment of the former SPB chief, Fernando Díaz, on the grounds that it was carried out in an emergency basis in light of the escape of Martín Lanatta, Cristian Lanatta and Víctor Schillaci from prison in an incident that aroused suspicion that there was complicity from the SPB.
The move against the SPB takes place within the wider efforts by the Vidal administration to carry out reform of the Bonaerense. The reform includes thinning the number of top police officers, the obligation that the brass submit asset statements that have been reviewed by civilian auditors in Internal Affairs, extended training for cadets and the creation of a criminal intelligence unit. The police force, by far the largest in the country with about 90,000 officers, has also seen a refurbishment of equipment and specialized on-the-job training.
As part of that increased training the provincial Human Rights Secretariat and the police have signed an agreement so that officers receive additional human rights training “with the objective of eradicating abusive behaviour and institutional violence against detainees.”
Human Rights Secretary Santiago Canton said that “the democratic transition has not arrived yet to the police nor the Penitentiary Service. Other parts of the state have democratized, but not the police and penitentiary. It is for this reason that Governor María Eugenia Vidal has promoted measures to make the police force more democratic and transparent.” Cantón has endorsed a report by the Provincial Commission on Memory (CPM) that in 2015 said there were 18,000 allegations of torture reported by people in custody in the province. Plans to reform the Buenos Aires City Penitentiary Service are also underway.
In line with the new approach, Vidal has insisted that in her opinion greater security is not achieved by having more cops on the streets walking a beat but rather by having better trained officers.
Herald staff with DyN

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