Prison and detention center conditions continued to fall short of international standards. Conditions were harsh and at times life threatening due to inmate violence, mistreatment, overcrowding, poorly trained staff, deteriorating infrastructure, and unsanitary living conditions.
Physical Conditions: According to a Ministry of Justice report in March, the country’s 16 penitentiaries held 10,843 inmates, 63 percent more than their design capacity of 6,637. The prison in Ciudad del Este, designed to hold 450 inmates, held 1,182, and the prison in Tacumbu, designed to hold 1,687 inmates, held 2,611. Conditions in the Tacumbu, Ciudad del Este, and several other prisons were inadequate, with widespread overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions. In an effort to address this situation, the government stopped putting new prisoners in Tacumbu and Ciudad del Este prisons and transferred existing prisoners to less crowded prisons. The ministry reported the prison population included 124 prisoners with diagnosed mental illness, 102 with tuberculosis, and 44 with HIV. Only the Padre Juan A. de la Vega prison, opened in 2012, was built with adequate temperature controls and reasonable accommodations (such as ramps) for prisoners with physical disabilities. The remaining 15 penitentiaries did not have adequate accommodations for inmates with physical disabilities.
Of the 10,843 inmates, 2,704 inmates (24.9 percent) had been convicted, while 8,139 inmates (75.1 percent) were in pretrial detention. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners in all but the Emboscada, Granja Ita Pora, and Granja Koe Pyahu prisons. Authorities did not separate nonviolent offenders from violent ones. Women represented 7 percent of the total prison population, with 776 inmates at nine prisons. Of these, 207 female inmates (27 percent) were convicted and 569 (73 percent) were pretrial detainees. Prison conditions for men and women were comparable. The women’s prison in Asuncion (one of the only two in the country) has a capacity of 200 inmates but held 473inmates, according to the ministry report. Authorities permitted nursing mothers to live with their infants inside a special area, separated from the rest of the prison population, in the Buen Pastor Women’s Prison in Asuncion. Women were imprisoned alongside men in penitentiaries in Encarnacion, Misiones, Concepcion, Coronel Oviedo, San Pedro, Villarrica, and Pedro Juan Caballero, although they were usually held in separate pavilions.
The Justice Ministry’s Directorate for the Care of Convicted Juveniles assigned minors convicted of juvenile crimes to one of nine youth correctional facilities in the country, one of which was dedicated for women. Some juvenile offenders served their sentences in separate sections of adult prisons, specifically the Encarnacion and the women’s Ciudad del Este penitentiaries. The ministry reported there were approximately 360 minors incarcerated for criminal offenses, of which 10.5 percent were convicted and the remainder in pretrial detention. The youth correctional facility in Itagua housed 157 juveniles in a facility designed to hold 120 juveniles.
Hundreds of National Police stations and regional headquarters had holding cells for the temporary custody and transfer of detained or arrested persons. There were no statistics available on the number of detainees held. According to the government’s NMPT reports, the physical conditions of holding cells varied; some reported were overcrowded and unsanitary, especially the National Police central holding cell in Asuncion, due to the temporary closing of the Tacumbu prison in January.
Food was adequate in most prisons, and inmates had access to potable water. The Justice Ministry reported theft by prison officials and misuse of food supplies in some prisons. On September 8, ministry inspectors discovered prison guards in the Itagua juvenile correctional facility serving officers’ mess leftover food and bones to inmates. The ministry dismissed Itagua Director Blas Martinez and opened an internal investigation. According to the ministry, inmates in the Tacumbu prison preferred to buy their own food from private kitchens operated by other inmates due to the scarcity and poor quality of food provided by prison authorities.
Tacumbu and Ciudad del Este prisons and the Emboscada, Coronel Oviedo, and Itagua juvenile facilities lacked adequate temperature control systems, particularly during the hot summer months. Some prisons, especially Tacumbu and Ciudad del Este, had cells with inadequate lighting in which prisoners were confined for long periods without an opportunity for exercise. Most prisoners had access to showers and sanitary facilities, and the Ciudad del Este prison built several bathrooms during the year. Sanitation and medical care were adequate, but some prisons lacked sufficient medical personnel for all shifts. Adherence to fire prevention norms was lacking, and several prisons, especially Tacumbu and Ciudad del Este, were at risk for fires caused by electrical short circuits due to inmates overloading electric installations with personal appliances.
Prisons lacked adequate security controls, especially at Tacumbu prison, where there were 241 prison guards, an insufficient number according to international prison standards to oversee 2,611 prisoners. Inmates frequently carried weapons and committed acts of violence, particularly against other inmates. There were reports of inmates raping other prisoners. Prison guards in the Juan Antonio de la Vega prison reportedly tasked inmates with the discipline of other prisoners.
On June 11, adjunct Ombudsman Edgar Villalba presented a complaint to the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney’s General Office for abuses and torture allegedly committed against three female inmates at the Buen Pastor women’s prison. On April 20, a male contractor guard, Luis Villagra, and two female guards, Elizabeth Ortiz and Olga Benitez, reportedly handcuffed and stripped naked a female inmate. A second inmate was handcuffed in a painful position, while a third inmate was kicked and handcuffed to a wall for several days. The ombudsman and the Ministry of Justice Human Right’s Office visited the inmates to verify the stories, and ministry authorities opened an investigation, which was pending at year’s end.
There were credible reports that criminal rings engaged in extortion and racketeering freely within the prison. Inmates, using smuggled cell phones, called car theft victims and demanded money for the return of their vehicles. There were reports of inmates also posing as EPP operatives, police chiefs, or hit men calling individuals and families of kidnapping victims and attempting to extort money. Authorities regularly confiscated cell phones and SIM cards from inmates but lacked sufficient funds to install cell phone-blocking equipment.
There were several prison riots during the year. On January 12, inmates at Tacumbu prison began fighting after guards refused to serve them food, resulting in the death of two inmates and injury of eight others, reportedly due to use of rubber bullets by riot police. During an April 21 riot at the Itagua Youth Correctional facility, guards Ignacio Fernandez and Juan Saucedo fired into the inmates’ barracks, killing Francisco Insfran and Nestor Duarte, both age 16. At year’s end the guards were awaiting trial for murder. On July 15, three riots broke out in the Buen Pastor women’s prison over the removal of the prison director. On July 31 and August 1, additional riots occurred at the Itagua Youth Correctional facility in which two juveniles died while attempting to escape and 17 others were injured.
By October, 30 prison deaths had been reported, including four at the Itagua Youth Facility, seven in Tacumbu, and four in Ciudad del Este. Nationwide, inmate-on-inmate violence accounted for eight deaths, two were killed by guards, three inmates died during prison break attempts, two died in accidental electrocutions, one committed suicide, and natural causes accounted for the remaining 14 deaths.
Administration: Recordkeeping was insufficient, and files used in different penitentiaries followed different formats and data. Employees in the Ministry of Justice could not readily access inmate files, since there was no central digital archive of prisoner records or detailed census of inmates.
Penal and judicial authorities frequently used alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent or first-time offenders, such as for house arrest and suspended sentences. Authorities also employed alternatives for violent and repeat offenders.
Prison ombudsmen from the Justice Ministry’s Human Rights Office reported challenges in improving prison conditions. Ombudsmen were receptive to complaints but reportedly encountered resistance from prison guards, authorities, and inmates.
Authorities allowed prisoners to observe their chosen religion. Tacumbu prison contained centers for different religious groups. Visitors reportedly needed to offer bribes to visit prisoners, hindering effective representation of inmates by public defenders. Prisoners have the right to submit complaints. In 2012 the Justice Ministry’s Human Rights Office formally established permanent cell phone and landline hotlines for prisoners and their families, allowing for anonymous filing of inmate complaints. During the year the ministry’s Internal Affairs Office began a series of random, unannounced visits of several prisons.
Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and took steps to alleviate them within the limitations of available resources.
Independent Monitoring: The government granted the media, independent civil society groups, and diplomatic representatives access to prisons with prior coordination. Representatives of the media, UN Commission Against Torture, the NMPT, Ombudsman’s Office, and other NGOs conducted prison visits.
Improvements: On February 3, the Ministry of Justice in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior inaugurated an introductory training course for new prison guards. On June 17, the Justice Ministry inaugurated the Center for Penitentiary Studies to train prison guards to foster merit-based evaluations and advancement.
During the year the Ministry of Justice centralized prison food procurement to combat theft and resale of supplies by prison authorities. The ministry initiated a program to upgrade all prison kitchens to natural gas stoves. On April 15, the ministry opened a modern kitchen in Tacumbu prison.
From September to December, the ministry sent officials to the Dominican Republic and the United States to visit model prisons and study best practices in penitentiary management. Subsequently, ministry officials reported reorganizing Tacumbu prison, creating programs for assisting and rehabilitating inmates following their release, and carrying out training courses for prison guards and ministry staff on security, drug prevention, and methods on how to enforce discipline rules among inmates and implement best practices in prison organization and administration management.