Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, lack of internal control, and poor sanitary conditions.
Physical Conditions: Prisons and detention centers were overcrowded and underfunded. On September 28, the human rights ombudsman reported there were 14,587 inmates in a system designed for 4,884, a 202 percent rate of overcrowding. Credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the capacity of the prison system according to international norms was closer to 3,000, suggesting a revised overcrowding rate of 380 percent. Some rural facilities reportedly held as many as 100 inmates in cells designed for 20. Executive orders to reduce overcrowding provided for the release of up to 2,000 inmates under presidential pardons, but severe bureaucratic delays and lack of access to legal counsel limited the number of inmates who received pardons. NGO Pastoral Penitentiary reported that only 170 inmates completed the process during the year and 450 since the first executive order was issued in 2011. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners in all major facilities.
Due to a lack of internal policing, violence and riots among prisoners remained a problem. Four inmates were killed and 11 were injured in a riot in September 15 at El Abra, Cochabamba’s largest prison. The human rights ombudsman claimed that Ministry of Government authorities erased video evidence of the incident following a visit by the ombudsman’s representatives the following day. Departmental Prison Governor Dennis Mejia was allegedly present at the internal prison party that preceded the deadly riot. On September 18, Mejia was arrested for covering up extortion in the prison, and El Abra Prison Director Yuri Duk was removed from his position on September 19. No one faced charges for the death of the prisoners as of November.
On September 9, inmates Jorge Mauricio Soliz Rojas, Tony Gabriel Mendoza Vaca, and Edson David Mendoza Vaca were sentenced to 30 years in prison for manslaughter after instigating a riot that resulted in the deaths of 36 persons in Palmasola prison in August 2013. At least 20 other suspects in the case were under investigation but not charged at year’s end.
On January 9, businessman Arturo Cuba was discovered dead in his cell in La Paz after being arrested on January 8 on charges of stealing 6.1 million bolivianos ($890,500) from the government-run development program Evo Cumple. Cuba was found hanged by his shoestrings. The police report indicated that his hands were tied behind his back. As of October there were at least seven additional confirmed cases of inmate deaths in prison. According to two former directors of the penitentiary system, at least 99 prisoners were killed in jails between 2000 and September 2014.
A report released by NGO Construir Foundation in October estimated that 10 percent of the prison population was women. There were two women’s prisons located in La Paz and one in Trinidad. In Morros Blancos Prison in Tarija, Montero Prison in Santa Cruz, Riberalta Prison in Beni, and Oruro Prison in Oruro, men and women shared sleeping facilities. In other facilities, men and women maintained separate sleeping quarters, but the populations comingled daily. Female inmates were sexually harassed on a regular basis, and some were reportedly forced to pay antirape extortion fees.
Approximately 1,700 juveniles (ages 16 to 21) were not segregated from adult prisoners in jails due to a lack of sufficient juvenile-specific facilities. Adult inmates and police reportedly abused juvenile prisoners. On July 17, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera signed into law a new child and adolescent code that lowers the juvenile detention age from 16 to 14 and requires juvenile offenders be housed in facilities separate from the general prison population in order to facilitate rehabilitation. Any adolescent under 14 years of age is exempt from criminal liability but may be subject to civil liability. At year’s end no new juvenile facilities were built, and no budget had been devoted to implement the new legal requirements. Rehabilitation programs for juveniles or other prisoners remained scarce.
Although the law permits children up to the age of six to live with an incarcerated parent, children as old as 12 resided in detention centers. The problem persisted despite a 2013 governmental plan to remove children from prisons. According to a Construir Foundation study published in October, 1,319 children lived with a parent in the country’s penitentiaries.
Due to persistent corruption, a prisoner’s wealth often determined his or her physical security, cell size, visiting privileges, ability to attend court hearings, day-pass eligibility, and place and length of confinement. In San Pedro Prison the main facility in La Paz, officials demanded bribes of 686 to 6,860 bolivianos ($100 to $1,000) from inmates before assigning them to cells, leaving at least 180 inmates to sleep in hallways and open-air spaces. In Cochabamba’s El Abra prison, inmates allegedly extorted from other inmates up to 48,000 bolivianos ($7,000) to protect them against being beaten, killed, and sexually assaulted. Inmates alleged there were an insufficient number of police officers to escort inmates to their judicial hearings, and credible NGOs reported that prison directors often refused to help facilitate the transfer of inmates to hearings, further delaying cases. Inmates also claimed police demanded bribes in exchange for allowing them to attend hearings.
Services to sustain basic needs were inadequate. Prisoners had access to potable water, but the standard prison diet was insufficient, and prisoners who could afford it supplemented rations by buying food. The government allocated the equivalent of 6.80 bolivianos ($0.99) for a prisoner’s daily diet and 3.40 bolivianos ($0.50) for the diet of underage children living with their inmate parents. Although the law provides that prisoners have access to medical care, care was inadequate, and it was difficult for prisoners to obtain permission for outside medical treatment.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate and maintained by the penitentiary system’s national office, although lack of adequate legal counsel led to cases in which prisoners remained incarcerated beyond the maximum sentence allowed for the crime for which they had been accused. Alternatives to sentencing for nonviolent offenders were not used. Authorities provided detainees reasonable access to visitors and permitted observance of their religious practices. Prisoners could submit complaints periodically to a commission of district judges for investigation, but due to fear of retaliation by prison authorities, inmates frequently did not submit complaints of abuses.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, local NGOs, judges, and media representatives, and such visits took place during the year. On at least one occasion, Human Rights Ombudsman for Santa Cruz Hernan Cabrera was denied entry to Palmasola jail. Cabrera alleged Prison Director Freddy Chinchilla denied him entry on April 3 on orders of higher authorities as Cabrera attempted to investigate allegations of abuse against prisoners being held on extortion charges.