The Federal Cassation Court has recommended granting house arrest to prisoners either convicted for "non-violent" crimes or sentenced to less than three years behind bars, due to the risks of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The court said house arrest should be accompanied by the wearing of electronic bracelets or anklets and that its decision was set against a context of overcrowded prisons.
The decision drew an immediate backlash from the families of crime victims, with at least one group protesting that "murderers should be in prison, not in their homes," even if homicides were not included in the court recommendation.
Within the limits of non-violent crimes and three-year prison sentences, the April 13 court resolution also includes those approaching the end of their sentence or close to parole, pregnant women and/or with small children and high-risk groups such as the elderly, the handicapped and those with HIV infection or chronic illnesses. Those convicted of violent crimes should not be released, the ruling said.
The judges specify that this resolution is not an order to lower instances but a recommendation, a potential argument for defence lawyers and an attempt to lower the health risks from prison overcrowding presented by Covid-19 in response to writs already presented by convicts feeling vulnerable in the face of the pandemic.
The Asociación Civil Usina de Justicia NGO, headed by Diana Cohen Agrest, has sent a letter to the Buenos Aires Provincial Criminal Cassation Court calling for the recommendation to be revoked, arguing that "victims have no voice for their rights" and that "sentences are meant to be served."
The NGO and relatives of murder victims have also assembled a video to show that "hundreds of murderers who should stay in prison are being allowed to go home,” even ahead of the recommendation.
“Murderers should be in prison, not in police stations or home. They should stop giving them privileges. Our beloved were silenced in cold blood with no chance to live. We feel mocked, that our grief has no value. The pandemic should not shelter murders,” ran the message accompanying the video.