The Penal System
The Penal Code of 1938, as subsequently revised,
country's penal system. Laws were applicable to citizens
alike who committed crimes as defined under the code.
classifiable as either felonies or misdemeanors and were
into six categories: crimes against property, crimes
persons, crimes against individual liberties, sex-related
crimes against public administration, and miscellaneous
1983 approximately 54 percent of all offenses were crimes
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
solitary confinement; imprisonment, which was served at a
facility less secure than the penitentiary; preventive
which mandated confinement at a minimally secure facility
detainee could choose from a variety of jobs; simple
which was comparable to internal exile; and fines. The
penalty, said to have long been a cause for public
during the nineteenth century, was eliminated in 1910.
In the early 1980s, the capacity of the country's
was only 12,000 prisoners, yet the size of the country's
population was estimated at 30,000. Both the rising crime
the backlog of cases had contributed to the serious
In July 1985, a number of important legal procedural
affected the administration of justice. Some of the
designed to help empty the country's prisons of those
minor offenses whose sentences were less than two years.
measures were believed to affect approximately 3,000
who were awaiting trial or serving out their sentences.
detention was mandated for those convicted of minor
who were sentenced to a minimum of two years'
addition, because of the lengthy delay in hearing cases,
issuance of arrest warrants for individuals suspected of
crimes that had a sentence of less than two years was
The penalties were stiffened for serious crimes, however.
convicted of committing such crimes as kidnapping for
extortion, terrorism, drug trafficking, or serious
remained subject to the full penalties applicable under
The largest maximum security penitentiary was La Picota
in Bogotá. Smaller penitentiaries were located in
Palmira, Ibagué, Manizales, Pamplona, Pasto, and
Prison facilities for females were maintained at Tunja and
In addition, agricultural penal colonies were located at
in the interior jungle near Araracuara. Two additional
facilities were located in Bogotá and on Isla Gorgona.
judicial district and municipality also operated its own
During the 1980s, the majority of prisoners convicted or
trial were held at these small local facilities. The
reformatories for juvenile offenders, holding youth aged
to eighteen, were located at Bogotá and Fagua.
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Resources for information related to national security
Colombia are diverse, yet few comprehensive accounts had
published by the late 1980s. The chapter on Colombia
The Armed Forces of Latin America by Adrian J.
presents useful information on the military's history,
organization, and matériel. The sections on the Colombian
in Robert Wesson's The Latin American Military
and the chapter by Daniel L. Premo in Wesson's New
Politics in Latin America also are helpful in
points in the development of the institution. Russell W.
written a number of studies on Colombia's armed forces,
particularly with regard to their role in the maintenance
J. Mark Ruhl's Colombia: Armed Forces and
Society is one
of the few published works dealing with the political role
armed forces from a historical perspective. Richard L.
Soldiers, Guerrillas, and Politics in Colombia,
1973, continues to be one of the most comprehensive
the security situation. Several books authored by General
Landazábal Reyes provide excellent background for
Colombian armed forces' perceptions of threats to national
security. The best sources for information on Colombian
trafficking operations as well as on developments related
activities of the country's guerrilla organizations are
reports, articles in scholarly journals, and sundry
publications and reports issued by the United States
The chapters on Colombia authored by Harvey F. Kline in
annual volumes of Latin America and Caribbean
Record also are useful in reviewing recent
further information and complete citations,
Data as of December 1988