Prison conditions continued to be poor, posing threats to the health and, sometimes, lives of prisoners. Overcrowding and understaffing in some facilities resulted in problems related to sanitation, ventilation, temperature, lighting, access to potable water, and health. Fire hazards continued due to handcrafted heaters that often set makeshift partitions on fire. Additionally, many basic necessities were lacking; prisoners depended on visitors for enough food to reach the daily minimum caloric intake and for clothing. Prisoner-on-prisoner violence continued to be a problem, partially due to the lack of a separate, high-security prison for violent criminals. There were 11 deaths in prisons during the year.
The government reported a total of 9,324 prisoners (8,597 men and 727 women), of whom 35 percent had been sentenced and 65 percent were awaiting trial. Pretrial detainees and convicted criminals were held together, but female and male prisoners were held in separate facilities. Prison conditions for women and men did not differ appreciably. At year’s end, 62 children lived in prison facilities with their inmate mothers.
The General Assembly elects a prison system ombudsman, who is responsible for monitoring and reporting to parliament on prison conditions in the nation’s 29 detention centers. This ombudsman receives 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 ombudsman presents an annual report with observations and recommendations.
Visitors had reasonable access to prisoners, and detainees and prisoners were permitted religious observance. The government allowed general prison visits by independent human rights observers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), religious congregations, and foreign diplomats, and such visits occurred unimpeded during the year.
The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions. There was one case of excessive use of force by the police in June. Authorities investigated the allegations, but results were not released.
After a four-day visit in July, Rodrigo Escobar Gil, the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Committee (IACHR) special rapporteur on prison conditions, issued a report noting that overcrowding (prison population at 129 per cent of capacity) was “one of the most serious” prison problems. He also observed that infrastructure, sanitation, and hygiene conditions at the Comcar Prison were “absolutely inadequate for housing human beings.” The report described conditions at Comcar Prison as inhumane due to extreme overcrowding (3,000 inmates in a facility built for 1,624). Escobar reported drug trafficking and use in prisons, particularly among those ages 18 to 25. The report also criticized the excessive use of “preventive prison” measures—the practice of holding prisoners considered dangerous after the completion of their sentences.
The special rapporteur’s report highlighted government actions to improve the prison system, such as the creation of facilities for 2,000 more inmates in 2010 and the closure of the steel container cells at Libertad Prison in May. The report also commended conditions at Punta de Rieles Prison, which was inaugurated in December 2010.
The prison ombudsman’s report also identified some positive trends. It highlighted an increase in prisoners in open prisons in each province where the detainees were involved in maintaining small land holdings, the continuation of a successful clinic in one of the country’s largest prisons, and advances in providing primary education to inmates. The ombudsman reported that 25 percent of prisoners in the 29 detention centers study or work. In September the government closed the antiquated Cabildo women’s prison. Its 420 inmates were transferred to the National Rehabilitation Center and segregated according to the severity of the crime each had committed.
The law sets forth rules to humanize the prison system and address overcrowding. In 2010 the government enacted a prison emergency law that allocated extra budget and resources to a restructuring of the prison system, including building 2,000 more spaces for prisoners by 2015.
The Uruguayan Institute for Adolescents and Children (INAU) is tasked with protecting abandoned and orphaned children under age 18. INAU employs a mixed system of open and closed facilities according to the seriousness of the crime committed. Due to frequent and often successful escape attempts, INAU increased security measures in its facilities, leading to more overcrowding. INAU reported that 450 juveniles were incarcerated, although the system has a maximum capacity of 330 places. Female juvenile criminals were processed and held in separate detention centers. The prison system ombudsman does not address the confinement of juvenile offenders.