Prison and detention center conditions continued to fall short of international standards. Conditions were harsh and, at times, potentially life threatening due to inmate violence, mistreatment, overcrowding, poorly trained staff, deteriorating infrastructure, and unsanitary living conditions.
Physical Conditions: According to a Justice Ministry report in September, the country’s 16 penitentiaries held 12,313 inmates, 79 percent more than their design capacity of 6,893. In an effort to address this situation, the ministry temporarily stopped admitting new prisoners in Tacumbu and Ciudad del Este prisons, where overcrowding was particularly severe, and transferred existing prisoners to less crowded prisons. Penitentiaries did not have adequate accommodations for inmates with physical disabilities.
Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners in all but the Emboscada, Granja Ita Pora, and Granja Koe Pyahu prisons. Women were imprisoned in the same facilities as men but were held separately in penitentiaries in Encarnacion, Misiones, Concepcion, Coronel Oviedo, San Pedro, Villarrica, and Pedro Juan Caballero.
The Justice Ministry’s Directorate for the Care of Convicted Juveniles assigned minors convicted of juvenile crimes to one of seven 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, such as the women’s Ciudad del Este penitentiaries.
According to official reports, 26 prisoners died in custody during the year: 20 from natural causes, four from inmate-on-inmate violence, and two as a result of being shot by guards during an inmate riot. According to NMPT statistics, 34 inmates died during the year.
Prison guards in the Juan Antonio de la Vega prison reportedly tasked inmates with the discipline of other prisoners, and in response to these allegations, the Justice Ministry investigated and removed the director of the Juan Antonio de la Vega prison. There were credible reports that criminal rings engaged in extortion and racketeering freely within the prison. Authorities regularly confiscated cell phones and SIM cards from inmates but lacked sufficient funds to install cell phone-blocking equipment or fund a canine unit to detect contraband.
Prisons lacked adequate security controls and prison guard staffing, especially at Tacumbu prison. Inmates frequently carried handmade weapons and committed acts of violence, particularly against other inmates. There were reports of inmates raping other prisoners. There were six prison riots during the year.
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. 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.
Administration: Visitors reportedly needed to offer bribes to visit prisoners, hindering effective representation of inmates by public defenders. During the year the Justice Ministry’s Internal Affairs Office continued random, unannounced visits of several prisons begun in 2014.
Independent authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions. During the year the Justice Ministry’s Human Rights Unit implemented new protocols to address the allegations, including adequate prison accommodations for prisoners with physical disabilities or special needs; immediate interventions in cases of human rights abuses of inmates; and greater access to justice for inmates with mental disabilities.
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 (UNCAT), the NMPT, Ombudsman’s Office, and other NGOs conducted regular prison visits.
Improvements: The Justice Ministry created a Directorate for Legal Review of Inmate’s Cases, which provided legal assistance, orientation, and pro bono legal advice to 3,500 inmates during the year. The ministry also secured the release of 50 inmates who had served time beyond that set forth in their original sentences because of negligence, delays in proceedings, and lost files by judges and administrative staff in the judicial branch.
The Justice Ministry inaugurated a new software system, TEKOVE, which allowed the ministry to digitize and centralize all inmate files. The software monitored all prison transfers as well as all inmate legal, disciplinary, and personal records.
In July the ministry inaugurated several new cellblocks in the Encarnacion prison in which inmates are unable to use personal appliances.
During the year the Justice Ministry inaugurated vocational training programs in several penitentiaries. The ministry signed a public-private partnership agreement with the Tokyo-based Fujikura Company to set up and finance an auto parts assembly factory within the women’s prison in Ciudad del Este. The ministry also set up a shoe factory in the Tacumbu prison, a carpentry workshop in La Esperanza industrial prison, and other factories in several prisons.
In response to observations by the NMPT and CODEHUPY, the Justice Ministry improved access to health services for female prisoners in the Buen Pastor prison. Coordination with the Ministry of Health improved, and there was an increase in medical services related to drug rehabilitation, HIV and tuberculosis prevention, and mental health in all prisons.