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Colombia The Penal System
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    The Penal Code of 1938, as subsequently revised, regulated the country's penal system. Laws were applicable to citizens and aliens alike who committed crimes as defined under the code. Crimes were classifiable as either felonies or misdemeanors and were divided into six categories: crimes against property, crimes against persons, crimes against individual liberties, sex-related crimes, crimes against public administration, and miscellaneous crimes. In 1983 approximately 54 percent of all offenses were crimes against property; 35 percent were crimes against persons.

    The maximum prison term allowable under the code was twentyfour years. Recognized punishments were confinement in a penitentiary, which included a mandatory one month to two years of solitary confinement; imprisonment, which was served at a prison facility less secure than the penitentiary; preventive detention, which mandated confinement at a minimally secure facility where the detainee could choose from a variety of jobs; simple confinement, which was comparable to internal exile; and fines. The death penalty, said to have long been a cause for public opposition during the nineteenth century, was eliminated in 1910.

    In the early 1980s, the capacity of the country's prison system was only 12,000 prisoners, yet the size of the country's prison population was estimated at 30,000. Both the rising crime rate and the backlog of cases had contributed to the serious overcrowding. In July 1985, a number of important legal procedural reforms affected the administration of justice. Some of the reforms were designed to help empty the country's prisons of those convicted of minor offenses whose sentences were less than two years. These measures were believed to affect approximately 3,000 individuals who were awaiting trial or serving out their sentences. Preventive detention was mandated for those convicted of minor offenses but who were sentenced to a minimum of two years' incarceration. In addition, because of the lengthy delay in hearing cases, the issuance of arrest warrants for individuals suspected of minor crimes that had a sentence of less than two years was suspended. The penalties were stiffened for serious crimes, however. Persons convicted of committing such crimes as kidnapping for ransom, extortion, terrorism, drug trafficking, or serious economic crimes remained subject to the full penalties applicable under existing law.

    The largest maximum security penitentiary was La Picota Prison in Bogotá. Smaller penitentiaries were located in Medellín, Palmira, Ibagué, Manizales, Pamplona, Pasto, and Barranquilla. Prison facilities for females were maintained at Tunja and Cuenca. In addition, agricultural penal colonies were located at Acacía and in the interior jungle near Araracuara. Two additional small prison facilities were located in Bogotá and on Isla Gorgona. Each judicial district and municipality also operated its own jail. During the 1980s, the majority of prisoners convicted or awaiting trial were held at these small local facilities. The principal reformatories for juvenile offenders, holding youth aged fourteen to eighteen, were located at Bogotá and Fagua.

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    Resources for information related to national security in Colombia are diverse, yet few comprehensive accounts had been published by the late 1980s. The chapter on Colombia published in The Armed Forces of Latin America by Adrian J. English presents useful information on the military's history, organization, and matériel. The sections on the Colombian military in Robert Wesson's The Latin American Military Institution and the chapter by Daniel L. Premo in Wesson's New Military Politics in Latin America also are helpful in highlighting key points in the development of the institution. Russell W. Ramsey has written a number of studies on Colombia's armed forces, particularly with regard to their role in the maintenance of internal security.

    J. Mark Ruhl's Colombia: Armed Forces and Society is one of the few published works dealing with the political role of the armed forces from a historical perspective. Richard L. Maullin's Soldiers, Guerrillas, and Politics in Colombia, published in 1973, continues to be one of the most comprehensive overviews of the security situation. Several books authored by General Fernando Landazábal Reyes provide excellent background for understanding the Colombian armed forces' perceptions of threats to national security. The best sources for information on Colombian narcotics trafficking operations as well as on developments related to the activities of the country's guerrilla organizations are press reports, articles in scholarly journals, and sundry specialized publications and reports issued by the United States government. The chapters on Colombia authored by Harvey F. Kline in several annual volumes of Latin America and Caribbean Contemporary Record also are useful in reviewing recent developments. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

    Data as of December 1988

    NOTE: The information regarding Colombia on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Colombia The Penal System information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Colombia The Penal System should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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