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Chile: The Penal System
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Public Order and Internal Security > The Penal System


The penal system also had been standardized since 1930, coming under the jurisdiction of the minister of justice. The system emphasizes the rehabilitation of the offender as its primary goal. The normal prison regime is humane; the degree of confinement is reduced progressively throughout the duration of the prisoner's sentence and ends, subject to good behavior, in conditional release for periods up to 50 percent of the total sentence. The lengths of the successive stages in the relaxation of the prison regime are varied and are implemented on the basis of semiannual judicial review, which takes into account behavior and perceived progress toward rehabilitation.

Under the Criminal Code, all persons sentenced for periods between sixty-one days and five years are obligated to work. Prisoners are remunerated for their work on a rising scale as they progress through the penal system and are eligible for the benefits of social insurance on the same basis as those in voluntary employment. However, a percentage of prisoners' earnings is deducted to cover their keep and the maintenance of the penal service and as a contribution toward the discharge of civil responsibility arising from their offenses. Work can be either directly for the state, on contract, or on lease. Examples of work for the state include manufacture of such items as road signs or automobile license plates, or public road construction and maintenance. Work on contract to private firms or individuals is still carried out within the penal institution, but with tools and materials supplied by the contractor. Work on lease differs inasmuch as the private contractor is responsible for the housing and maintenance of the prisoner in secure conditions. Prisoners may also undertake additional discretionary work of a gainful nature within certain limitations laid down by the prisons administration.

There are some 140 penal institutions of various types with a capacity for approximately 15,000 inmates. Of these about sixtyfive are intended to house short-term (sixty-day maximum) or remand prisoners; six are intended for long-term prisoners; twenty-three are correctional institutions for females and are supervised by a Catholic order of nuns; one is an open prison, located on Isla Santa María, southwest of Concepción; one is a special institution for juvenile offenders; and the remainder house prisoners serving sentences of between sixty-one days and five years. These are administered by the Gendarmerie, or Judicial Police of Chile (Gendarmería de Chile), which reports to the Ministry of Justice and numbers approximately 4,000 members.

A combination of social and political factors have inflated the prison population relative to its capacity; in 1990 it exceeded 25,000 inmates. Some 60 percent of these were on remand awaiting trial. After the riots of 1980, the military regime was widely condemned for crowding 1,800 inmates into Santiago's San Bernardo Prison. However, the same institution, designed to hold 800, housed 3,300 inmates during the third quarter of 1990.

Data as of March 1994

Last Updated: March 1994

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Chile was first published in 1994. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

Chile Main Page Country Studies Main Page

Section 191 of 195


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