Prison conditions were harsh due to the rapid increase in the number of detainees, which led to gross overcrowding. Authorities acknowledged that due to corruption among low-ranking and poorly paid guards, the state was unable to regulate inmates within facilities. A lack of internal control created an unsafe environment, endangering the detainees and the hundreds of children who lived in penitentiary centers. Many prisoners were forced to pay bribes for protection and accommodation.
Physical Conditions: Prisons and detention centers were overcrowded and underfunded. During the year the number of inmates increased by 4,359 to a total of 13,489, held in facilities designed for 5,000. This was in addition to a 22.4 percent increase in 2011. On December 20, the president issued an executive order to allow the national penitentiary system director to release up to 600 inmates convicted of minor crimes and 1,000 persons in preventive detention, but no prisoners had received freedom under the decree by the end of the year. The penitentiary director stated that the system’s 2012 operating budget was 17 million bolivianos ($2.44 million), less than 15 percent of the amount requested by the agency for 2013.
There were separate prisons for women, except for Morros Blancos Prison in Tarija, Montero Prison in Santa Cruz, Riberalta Prison in Beni, and Oruro Prison in Oruro, where men and women shared facilities. Sleeping quarters were segregated, but the population comingled daily. Conditions for female inmates were similar to those for men. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.
According to Ministry of Government officials, 1,000 convicted juveniles (ages 16 to 21) were not segregated from adult prisoners in jails. Adult inmates reportedly abused juvenile prisoners. Four convicted female juveniles were serving their sentences in the Center for Women’s Therapy Counseling, a women’s shelter in La Paz, partially segregated from the abuse victims. Rehabilitation programs for juveniles or other prisoners were scarce.
Although the law permits children up to the age of six to live with an incarcerated parent, children as old as 12 lived with a parent, usually their mothers, in prison. According to the national penitentiary director, approximately 700 children did so, while the human rights ombudsman placed the figure at 1,487.
Due to persistent corruption, a prisoner’s wealth often determined cell size, visiting privileges, 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. The media reported that in some rural facilities as many as 45 inmates were held in the same cell.
Due to a lack of internal policing, violence and riots among prisoners remained a problem. According to the ombudsman, in some prisons inmates were forced to pay other inmates a “life insurance” fee of 3,500 to 10,500 bolivianos ($500 to $1,500) to avoid beatings and torture by other inmates. Protests also resulted in violence. During an April 24 protest at San Pedro Prison, inmates threw wood, bottles, and other objects within the prison and onto the public streets outside.
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. National Penitentiary Director Ramiro Llanos declared that the state allocated the equivalent of 6.4 bolivianos ($0.92) for a prisoner’s daily diet and 3.2 bolivianos ($0.46) for the diet of underage children living with their inmate parents. The law provides that prisoners have access to medical care, but 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. Alternatives to sentencing for nonviolent offenders were not used. Prison detainees had reasonable access to visitors and were permitted religious observance. Authorities permitted prisoners to submit complaints periodically to a commission of district judges to investigate; however, due to fear of retaliation by prison authorities, inmates frequently did not submit complaints of abuses.
Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers such as International Committee of the Red Cross, judges, and media representatives, and such visits took place during the year.
Improvements: In July the government adopted a new regulatory code to standardize practices, such as the list of prohibited items, in the country’s penitentiaries. The new code also mandates the creation of penitentiary councils in every facility to monitor conditions and enforce penitentiary policies.