Roberto Pettinato and the Construction of Latin American Penitentiary Thought (1947-1955)

Research Project

"Roberto Pettinato returning from Penitentiary Congress in Brasil. Ezeiza Airport. 1953" (National Library, Argentina)

This research project - within the framework of the Max-Planck PICT project 'The Travels of Ideas about the Criminal Question to and from Argentina', led by Máximo Sozzo (Argentina) and Thomas Duve (Germany) - examines an aspect of the history of Argentine prisons completely neglected by scholars: the dissemination of Peronist penitentiary thought across Latin America during the 1940s and 1950s.

As our point of departure, we focus on Roberto Pettinato’s term in office as General Director of Argentina’s National Penal Institutions. The main features of his administration have already been analysed by renowned specialists (Caimari, Cesano, Silva), who focused on the commonalities and ruptures between Pettinato and previous administrations, not to mention with the positivist criminology paradigm of the late 19th century (which aimed at resocialising inmates by means of work, discipline and education).

For our project, unpublished sources are examined to address a seldom researched topic: the penitentiary relations established by Pettinato with other South American countries, above all Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela (among others).

A number of facts serve to underline these relations: (1) Pettinato’s travels throughout South America to both study the various penitentiary systems and to give lectures (in addition to the foreign specialists who travelled to Argentina); (2) the technical collaboration and advice provided for the construction of penitentiary establishments, such as the Guayaquil model penitentiary in 1954; (3) Pettinato’s frequent participation in penitentiary congresses in Brazil from 1952 to 1954; and (4) Brazil's and Ecuador's adoption of the Argentine penitentiary institutions, such as the Penitentiary School (where officials were trained) and the Flexible Discipline Regime, among others.

This research, based on the novel approach proposed by the abovementioned PICT project, contributes to the knowledge about penitentiary relations among South American countries (South-South relation), shifting the focus away from (while still recognising) the relations established between the Global North and Latin American countries.

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