Prison and detention center conditions continued to be harsh and life threatening in some facilities due to police corruption, firearms, and drugs in prison facilities; narcotics trafficking and extortion by prison gangs; poor building maintenance and services; excessive use of force and solitary confinement as disciplinary measures; and inadequate medical attention. Understaffing in some facilities remained a problem.
Physical Conditions: The prison ombudsman’s 2013 review reported 9,771 prisoners (625 women), of whom 65 percent were awaiting trial. The rising crime and high recidivism (50-52 percent) rates, as well as widespread use of extended pretrial detention, put the system at 126 percent of capacity. Facilities had a capacity of approximately 9,000 inmates. Public mental-health hospitals in Vilardebo, Colonia Etchepare, Santin Carlos Rossi, and elsewhere in the interior held approximately 360 prisoners, most of whom were reportedly drug addicts. In some facilities authorities held together pretrial detainees and convicted criminals.
Juvenile, female, and male prisoners were held in separate facilities. Prison conditions for women and men did not differ appreciably. There were separate detention centers for female juveniles to be processed and held. Five prisons continued to suffer severe overcrowding: Mercedes (248 percent), Canelones (182 percent), Tacuarembo (165 percent), Canitas in Rio Negro (154 percent), and the former Comcar, now Compen (151 percent). The ombudsman’s report noted that 13 out of 28 prisons suffered overcrowding in excess of 120 percent. Prisoners with disabilities faced difficulties in receiving the specialized medical care they needed.
Authorities held military and police officers sentenced for human rights violations committed during the military regime (1973-85) at the Domingo Arena Prison, where conditions differed greatly from those of the other prisons. Cells were furnished and included cable television and a refrigerator. Prisoners had free access to public telephones.
Authorities reported that approximately 7 percent of prisoners were women and that 61 children lived with their mothers in prison. El Molino was the only prison intended for women with children and was at maximum capacity with 30 children. The Ministry of Interior’s National Rehabilitation Institute (INR) remodeled another facility to accommodate nine children. The rest lived with their mothers in prisons in the interior of the country. In September, with the support of the United Nations, the government launched a support program for the estimated 10,000 children of incarcerated parents. The program included establishing child friendly visitation rooms, free transportation to the prisons, and psychological support. In August the Conventos Prison inaugurated a child friendly visitation room.
There were two prison deaths in 2013, both of which occurred at Santiago Vazquez Prison during a riot in Module 1. In September, one prisoner died at Libertad Prison due to prisoner-on-prisoner violence. Some facilities continued to have inadequate sanitation, ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and access to potable water. Prisoner-handcrafted heaters that could set makeshift partitions on fire continued to pose fire hazards. Many facilities lacked both formal security clearance from the fire department and many basic necessities. Prisoners depended on visitors for clothing and enough food to reach the daily minimum caloric intake. Female prisoners often received no support from their families.
The 2013 ombudsman report highlighted the following problems in prisons: a decrease of temporary outings beyond prison walls, the excessive use of force and solitary confinement as disciplinary measures, a poor diet in quantity and quality, a prevalence of tuberculosis in prisons 30 times higher than in the general population, inefficiency and omission in coordinating access to medical services outside prisons, and the lack of alternative treatments for drug addicts.
The Uruguayan Institute for Children and Adolescents (INAU) Adolescent Offenders’ Division (SIRPA) reported 697 juveniles were incarcerated in 17 facilities with a capacity for 350. Sixty percent of the juvenile inmates were first-time offenders. Male and female juveniles were kept in separate facilities. In April SIRPA inaugurated an entry and diagnosis center to classify imprisoned adolescents according to their crime and personal profile. In 2013 SIRPA conducted the first census of inmates and worked with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), state agencies, and private companies to facilitate access of released juveniles to the labor market. In August, SIRPA inaugurated a farm/school low-security facility at Colonia Berro and, in September, opened a higher security facility that includes classrooms, and medical and dental units.
In April the National Institution of Human Rights (INDDHH) reported overcrowding, inhuman, and degrading conditions, and excessive use of force and psychotropic drugs at SIRPA homes, particularly at the Burgues and Hogar Ser facilities in Colonia Berro. The report noted severe overcrowding, with cells intended for four confining eight adolescents for up to 23 hours per day. Inmates did not have access to proper sanitation or reading materials. The Committee for the Rights of Children (a consortium of 26 NGOs) and the Legal and Social Studies Institution endorsed the report and added that SIRPA authorities lacked a clear plan of action and a general strategy to address the needs of a vulnerable population. The Union of INAU employees criticized the report stating that it ignored the physical aggression faced by staff. SIRPA authorities attributed overcrowding primarily to stricter security measures that prevent escapes and the enactment of new legislation that imposes a minimum sentence of 12 months for juveniles ages 15-17 years who commit armed robberies.
In June the coordinator of the National Committee for the Rights of Children, Luis Pedernera, presented a report before the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva, about the alleged abuses committed in SIRPA-managed institutions. The UN evaluation criticized SIRPA. In September, after a visit to SIRPA’s Hogar Ser, the UN rapporteur on the rights of children, condemned the condition of the facility and recommended its immediate closure. In October the INDDHH signed a cooperative agreement with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to create a task force to monitor SIRPA facilities. In October, eight officials from Hogar Ser, including two former directors, were indicted for “repeated abuse of authority.”
Administration: The INR was responsible for national detention centers, their reorganization, and implementation of probation and rehabilitation measures for prisoners. The INR’s recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate and included files on each inmate, which included personal, police record, and sentencing information. The INR assigned prisoners to the appropriate detention facilities according to their profile and crime. The INR created a transfer board to guarantee transparency in the analysis and granting of prisoner transfers. A government decree signed in August established economic incentives for prison officials who establish administrative measures to improve food, optimize economic resources, and avoid jailbreaks. In July the INR hired 235 additional corrections officers for prisons in the interior of the country, 50 percent of whom were women.
The Office of Probation Measures (OSLA) continued to lack sufficient human and financial resources to work in most interior provinces. Despite these difficulties, OSLA’s efforts reduced incarceration growth and helped the judiciary increase substitute measures for nonviolent crimes. In July the director of OSLA reported 1,052 cases under supervision, 77 percent more than in 2013. OSLA concluded agreements with the State Waterworks Company and the Postal Service to find job opportunities for prisoners, as well as their families, upon release.
The parliament’s General Assembly elects a prison system ombudsman who is responsible for monitoring and reporting annually to parliament on prison conditions in the country’s 29 detention centers. Representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman made 452 visits to prisons in 2013. The ombudsman coordinated its work with the INDDHH. The ombudsman received complaints from prisoners and may present reports and recommendations but may not act on behalf of prisoners and detainees to consider such matters as alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders to alleviate overcrowding. The confinement of juvenile offenders is not within its mandate.
The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Visitors had reasonable access to prisoners and detainees, and prison officials permitted prisoners religious observance. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions.
Although the INDDHH reminded the National Electoral Court of its obligation to guarantee that all eligible imprisoned nationals shall exercise their right to vote in advance of national elections, eligible prisoners were unable to vote in this year’s national elections due to operational and administrative difficulties of the Electoral Court.
Independent Monitoring: The government allowed general prison visits by independent human rights observers, NGOs, religious congregations, and foreign diplomats, and such visits occurred unimpeded during the year.
Improvements: The 2013 ombudsman’s report noted improvements in the transition to a national system of prisons by hiring and training new civilian corrections officers. OSLA increased the implementation of community service programs in lieu of pretrial detention. Prison authorities audited the entry and distribution of foodstuffs to decrease corruption. Hundreds of prisoners volunteered to refurbish facilities that were destroyed by riots or poorly maintained. INR’s Industrial Center of Santiago Vazquez (opened in 2009) inaugurated an education unit in May. The center, built by prisoners, has numerous workshops which develop inmates’ skills and manufacture products used throughout the prison system. In July the ombudsman stated that 68 percent of prisoners worked or studied or both. In April the government’s “one laptop per child” program donated 40 laptops to a women’s detention center and 95 laptops to Libertad, Santiago Vazquez, Punta de Rieles, Canelones, and Paysandu prisons.