Doctor in Argentine Prison

Date: 1932
Owner: Instituto de Criminologia de la Penitentiaria Nacional
Source Type: Images


This 1932 photograph shows a patient being examined in Argentina's national penitentiary. In 1905, the Argentine government created the Office of Medicolegal Studies whose job was to examine the physical, psychological, hereditary, and moral characteristics of incarcerated persons in order to better understand "the criminal type" and thus better defend society against such corruptive agents. Social and personal habits (especially alcoholism), diseases, education, religiosity, and skills were similarly investigated, especially in imprisoned young men and boys because they were believed to be the symbolic and real manifestation of the nation's future, and it was thus imperative to identify the causes of their "antisocial" behavior.

As Lila Caimari points out, the actual act of examining prisoners asserted the state's power over the individual and, far from socializing inmates, actually exacerbated further the gap between "normal" citizens and criminals. Furthermore, just because the people being examined were in a necessarily subaltern position does not mean that they passively accepted their inquisition and provided accurate responses to their examiners. In fact, every inmate knew that the psychological and biographical information they provided had direct and profound consequences on their personal future. The information gathered by criminologists, even those based on "facts," such as anthropometrics, was thus far from objective, being subject to manipulation by both the examiner and the examinee.

Reference: Caimari, Lila. Apenas Un Delincuente: Crimen, Castigo y Cultura en la Argentina, 1880-1955. Buenos Aires: Siglo Vientiuno Editores, 2004.

CITATION: From Revista de Criminologia, Psiquiatria y Medicina Legal, mayo-junio 1932.