Prison conditions continued to be harsh and life threatening. Problems included police corruption, firearms, and drugs found inside the premises, increasing activity of narcotics gangs within the prisons, overcrowding, poor building maintenance and services, and excessive use of force. The increasing crime rate and high recidivism led to overcrowding (prison population in some facilities between 120 and 300 percent of capacity) and understaffing in some facilities.
Physical Conditions: The government reported 9,560 prisoners (8,652 men and 908 women), of whom 35 percent had been sentenced and 65 percent were awaiting trial. Facilities had a design capacity for approximately 7,600 inmates. 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. The Uruguayan Institute for Children and Adolescents (INAU) reported that 496 juveniles were incarcerated in a system with 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.
Facilities often had inadequate sanitation, ventilation, temperature, lighting, and access to potable water. 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 clothing and enough food to reach the daily minimum caloric intake. Prisoner-on-prisoner violence continued, partially due to the lack of a separate, high-security prison for violent criminals. There were 13 deaths in prisons during the year. In September the Ministry of Interior dismissed the director of Libertad Prison for failure to control abusive actions of prison guards.
UN Special Rapporteur Against Torture Juan Mendez visited Montevideo in December. After visiting four adult prisons and seven penal centers for adolescents, he concluded that “a state of emergency prevails.” He reported continued serious problems of overcrowding, lack of adequate hygiene, excessive use of antipsychotic drugs, and insufficiently trained staff. He recognized the work done by authorities but was disappointed by the lack of progress since his predecessor’s visit in 2009.
The penitentiary system experienced a series of riots that destroyed numerous prison spaces and damaged newly built premises and infrastructure, aggravating overcrowding. The Union of Police Officers claimed that underpaid prison guards worked excessive hours in subhuman conditions and faced constant lethal threats.
In January three inmates perished in a prison fire after a gang fight in the Comcar Prison, a medium-security facility near Montevideo.
On April 20, authorities suspended visits in Libertad Prison after an inmate shot two guards, killing one and severely wounding the other. In August the Association of Public Attorneys stated that after the shooting incident, some of their members had to meet with their defendants inside their cells because prison guards would not move prisoners within the premises.
On April 25, hundreds of prisoners rioted and set fire to two wings of Comcar Prison to protest the suspension of family member visits. Ministry of Interior officials later acknowledged that for several weeks guards had not patrolled areas of Comcar's modules 4 and 5 because of “a lack of security” and that for more than three hours, Comcar inmates controlled sections of the prison, including its internal walkie-talkie communications system. The government was unable to quickly relocate the 1,200 Comcar prisoners displaced by the destruction of 800 places during the riots and temporarily left them outside on a prison patio (covered with a canvas but exposed to wintry conditions). In the weeks after the riots at Comcar and the protests at the Female Corrections and Rehabilitation Facility (CNR), authorities found weapons and handguns registered to contract guards in prisoner cells in Comcar.
On April 27, after learning of the Comcar uprising, 90 of the 370 CNR inmates, initiated a hunger strike by sewing shut their mouths to protest the suspension of family visits and the slow relocation of Comcar prisoners. The inmates burned furniture and mattresses. The riot caused injuries to two police officers and a firefighter.
In December the ombudsman alerted authorities about prostitution rings in Comcar and Canelones prisons. Drug dealers allegedly coerced addict prisoners to pay their drug debts by obliging family members to perform sexual intercourse with the dealers. The report stated that the system failed to prevent sexual abuse of new inmates and to provide adequate protection for victims reporting sexual abuse.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate and included files on each inmate, which note personal data, police record, and sentence. Authorities sometimes used alternatives to sentencing, such as community service. The General Assembly elects a prison system ombudsman, who is responsible for monitoring and reporting to parliament on prison conditions in the country’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 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 inhuman conditions.
Monitoring: 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.
Improvements: The prison ombudsman’s May report indicated that application of a law for rehabilitation through work permitted prisoners to reduce their prison sentence by two days for each work or study day. The ombudsman reported that 23 percent of prisoners in the 29 detention centers studied or worked; in some rural prisons, up to 80 percent worked or studied.
In February Ministry of Interior authorities closed the outdated and overcrowded prison of Las Rosas in the province of Maldonado and relocated 507 prisoners to a newly built prison with the same name.