The Peruvian Criminal Justice System and Prison Conditions

Update 6/7: He is still at the police headquarters facility. Reports that he will be moved to Miguel Castro Castro are now contradicted by the ex-prison chief, who says it is not secure enough to protect him. The ex-chief now thinks he will go to the maximum prison at Piedras Gordas, which he says does have adequate security. More here. This does seem to be his opinion, not fact. He's the former prison head. Article from Peru here.

Update 6/6: Joran Van der Sloot is being moved to the Miguel Castro Castro maximum security prison. Details here.

Getting details on the Peruvian penal code and procedural rules when you can't read Spanish is no easy task. Even Lexis and Westlaw offered little help. Our State Department has some basic information in this report dated March, 2010:

Trial Procedures

The justice system is based on the Napoleonic Code. The prosecutor investigates cases and submits an opinion to a first instance judge, who determines if sufficient evidence exists to open legal proceedings. The judge conducts an investigation, evaluates facts, determines guilt or innocence, and issues a sentence. All defendants are presumed innocent; they have the right to be present at trial, to call witnesses, and to be represented by counsel, although in practice the public defender system often failed to provide indigent defendants with qualified attorneys. The Ministry of Justice provided indigent persons with access to an attorney at no cost, although these attorneys were often poorly trained.


Defendants and their attorneys generally have access to government-held evidence related to their cases for recent crimes, except in cases related to the human rights abuses of the period 1980-2000 and particularly with respect to those involving the Ministry of Defense. Although citizens have the right to be tried in their own language, language services for non-Spanish speakers, who comprise a substantial number of persons in the highlands and Amazon regions, were sometimes unavailable. Defendants may appeal verdicts to the superior court and then to the Supreme Court of Justice. The Constitutional Court decides cases involving such issues as habeas corpus.

Arrest procedures:

The law permits police to detain persons for investigative purposes. Persons were apprehended openly. The law requires a written judicial warrant based on sufficient evidence for an arrest unless the perpetrator of a crime is apprehended in the act. Only judges may authorize detentions. Authorities are required to arraign arrested persons within 24 hours, except in cases of terrorism, drug trafficking, or espionage, in which arraignment must take place within 30 days. In remote areas arraignment must take place as soon as practicable. Military authorities must turn over persons they detain to the police within 24 hours.

The law requires police to file a report with the Public Ministry within 24 hours after an arrest. The Public Ministry, in turn, must issue its own assessment of the legality of the police action in the arrest, and authorities respected this right effectively in practice. A law effective on December 14 permits security forces to recover the bodies of fallen soldiers and police without the presence of the Public Ministry and civilian authorities only with the ministry's permission. The law addresses concerns particularly in the emergency zones.

The time between an arrest and an appearance before a judge averaged 20 hours. Judges have 24 hours to decide whether to release a suspect or continue detention. A functioning bail system exists, but many poor defendants lacked the means to post bail. By law detainees are allowed access to a lawyer and to family members. Police may detain suspected terrorists incommunicado for 10 days. The Ministry of Justice provided indigent persons with access to an attorney at no cost, although these attorneys were often poorly trained. Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) worked with the ministry to improve their skills.

Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. According to a study prepared by the Technical Secretary of the Special Commission for Integral Reform of the Justice System, 61 percent of those in prison were awaiting trial, the majority for between one and two years. The law requires release of prisoners who have been held more than 18 months without being sentenced; the period is extended to 36 months in complex cases.

On the prisons in Peru, including those for pre-trial detainees:

Prison conditions were harsh for the 44,800 inmates, of whom 2,794 were women. The National Penitentiary Institute (INPE) operated 56 of the country's 71 active prisons, and the National Police of Peru (PNP) has jurisdiction over the rest. Prisoners with money had access to cell phones, illegal drugs, and meals prepared outside the prison.

Conditions were poor to extremely harsh in facilities for prisoners who lacked funds. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate nutrition and health care were serious problems. Inmates had intermittent access to running water, bathing facilities were inadequate, kitchen facilities were unhygienic, and prisoners slept in hallways and common areas for lack of cell space. Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS reportedly remained at near-epidemic levels. The San Juan de Lurigancho men's prison held 9,874 prisoners in a facility designed for 3,204.

.....Conditions were especially harsh in maximum-security facilities located at high altitudes. The high-security prison in the jungle area of Iquitos was in poor condition and was under renovation. During the year the PNP transferred responsibility for operating the facility to INPE.

Prison guards and fellow inmates reportedly abused prisoners. There were deaths of inmates in prisons, most attributed to fellow inmates, but some were due to negligence by guards. Guards received little or no training or supervision. Corruption was a serious problem, and some guards cooperated with criminal bosses who oversaw the smuggling of guns and drugs into prisons.

By December authorities had sentenced only 17,297 of the 44,800 persons held in the country's detention facilities. Authorities held detainees temporarily in pretrial detention centers located at police stations, judiciary buildings, and the Ministry of Justice. In most cases authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross made 44 unannounced visits in accordance with its standard modalities to inmates in 27 prisons and detention centers.

Joran Van der Sloot is being brought by motor vehicle to Lima, an 18 hour ride. Authorities in Peru said all their planes were tied up by the meeting of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, which is being held in Lima, and they thought a commercial flight would have security problems.

Among the toughest: Lurigancho Prison (photos here.)

Lurigancho Prison in Peru was built for 3600 inmates but now houses nearly 10,000, with only 100 unarmed guards

On Sunday, Hillary Clinton heads to Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Barbados. Since Joran is not American, I doubt she'll stop in to see him.

To be continued, when we learn Joran's final destination.

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  • Display: Sort:
    According to a defense attoney (none / 0) (#1)
    by jbindc on Sat Jun 05, 2010 at 07:33:18 AM EST
    On TV last night, he would face a 3 judge panel and the standard of proof is the preponderance of the evidence. Joren faces 35 years for murder.*

    *(Not my opinion - just what the guy who practices in this area said)

    It is funny (none / 0) (#2)
    by nyjets on Sat Jun 05, 2010 at 08:09:13 AM EST
    With respect to your comment of Clinton not visting the accused.
    The only reason why the US is even remotly interested in this case is the Natalee Holloway case.
    Otherwise, the case in Peru only involved non-US citizens. Other than an intersting chapter in international law, the US would have zero interest in the case.

    Not so. .. (none / 0) (#3)
    by ding7777 on Sat Jun 05, 2010 at 08:44:03 AM EST
    US Attorneys Office received an arrest warrant  against Joran Van Der Sloot on wire fraud and extortion charges

    Actually, ... so (none / 0) (#4)
    by Yman on Sat Jun 05, 2010 at 09:04:09 AM EST
    Otherwise, the case in Peru only involved non-US citizens. Other than an interesting chapter in international law, the US would have zero interest in the case.

    The Alabama case is a separate matter, and hardly worthy of any intervention by the SOS.


    If the Alabama US Attorney (none / 0) (#5)
    by ding7777 on Sat Jun 05, 2010 at 09:44:03 AM EST
    is successful in filing for Joran's extradition , the warrant will be made by the President (acting through the Secretary of State)

    Whether its "worthy" or not is for the Alabama US Attorney/US President to decide - but in any event it has more than zero interest for US officials at this point.


    It won't happen (none / 0) (#6)
    by jbindc on Sat Jun 05, 2010 at 09:53:36 AM EST
    The larger crime charged usually gets the first go at him.  The US wouldn't even think of trying to extradite him while he faces murder charges.  If he is not convicted, then they probably will extradite him to try him on the extortion charge, but if he is found guilty and goes to prison, it will never happen.

    That would be true ... (none / 0) (#7)
    by Yman on Sat Jun 05, 2010 at 10:34:59 AM EST
    but in any event it (the Alabama case) has more than zero interest for US officials at this point.

    ... if nyjets was referring to the Alabama case, but he was not:

    Otherwise, the case in Peru only involved non-US citizens. Other than an interesting chapter in international law, the US would have zero interest in the case.

    Jeralyn and Nyjets were also discussing whether the SOS would personally visit Van der Sloot in Peru, not whether they would file for his extradition re: the Alabama case.  Of course the issue of the SOS visiting Van der Sloop is up to the POTUS/SOS.  I was merely indicating my opinion that a foreign national, being held in Peru as a suspect in the murder of another foreign national, was hardly worthy of personal intervention/visitation from the SOS, irrespective of any extortion charges pending against him in the US.


    Yup (none / 0) (#8)
    by jbindc on Sat Jun 05, 2010 at 10:36:19 AM EST
    Especially as the only American involved in any of this is a potential victim!

    Hey, he's not a US citizen. (none / 0) (#9)
    by observed on Sat Jun 05, 2010 at 12:49:57 PM EST
    I hope the applicable laws are applied to him in full force.