Prison and detention center conditions continued to be harsh and life threatening in some facilities. The rising crime and high recidivism (60 percent) rates, as well as widespread use of extended pretrial detention, put the system at 125 percent of capacity. Understaffing in some facilities remained a problem.
Other problems included 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.
Physical Conditions: The government reported 9,535 prisoners (665 women), of whom 65 percent were awaiting trial. Facilities had a capacity of approximately 8,900 inmates. Public mental health hospitals in Vilardebo, Colonia Etchepare, Santin Carlos Rossi, and elsewhere in the interior held 350 prisoners. Authorities held together pretrial detainees and convicted criminals, while juvenile, female, and male prisoners were held in separate facilities. Prison conditions for women, juvenile offenders, and men did not differ appreciably. There were separate detention centers for female juvenile criminals to be processed and held. The Uruguayan Institute for Children and Adolescents (INAU) Adolescent Offenders’ Division (SIRPA) reported 600 juveniles were incarcerated in facilities with a capacity for 350. Assisted by INAU staff, 26 women at El Molino prison kept their children with them. Another 39 children were in 13 other detention centers. Prisoners with disabilities faced difficulties in receiving the specialized medical care they needed.
There were 17 prison deaths in 2012 from homicide and suicide. Six prisoners died of tuberculosis and three of HIV/AIDS-related diseases. Some facilities had 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 hazard risks. Most facilities lacked formal security clearance from the fire department and lacked 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. Prisoner-on-prisoner violence continued, partially due to the lack of a separate, high-security prison for violent criminals.
Those incarcerated in the public mental health hospitals Vilardebo, Colonia Etchepare, Santin Carlos Rossi, and some facilities in the interior had an average age of 30, and most of those detained reportedly were drug addicts.
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.
There were reports of excessive use of force at the Colonia Berro facility, and in some facilities inmates suffered inhuman and degrading conditions as a result of overcrowding. In August prisoners were immediately evacuated after setting fire to mattresses and destroying the premises of Module II of Comcar. In October three prisoners died during a riot in Module I of Comcar. According to an investigation, quarrels among drug dealers sparked the riot. Two prisoners died from shots fired by police and one prisoner died from injuries sustained during the six-hour riot. The prison ombudsman’s report presented to congress concluded the deaths were extrajudicial killings.
The Union of Police Officers claimed underpaid prison guards worked excessive hours in subhuman conditions and faced constant lethal threats. The prison ombudsman report stated the prisoner-to-guard ratio was dangerously high (in some prisons one guard supervised 250 prisoners) and that long hours and harsh working conditions caused extreme stress among the prison guard staff.
Administration: The Ministry of Interior’s National Rehabilitation Institute (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.
Judicial authorities used few alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. The Office of Probation Measures (OSLA) lacked sufficient human and financial resources to work in most interior provinces and only operated within 24 miles of Montevideo.
The 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 413 visits to prisons in 2012. The ombudsman coordinates work with the National Institution of Human Rights. The 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 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.
Independent 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.
Former UN special rapporteur against torture Manfred Nowak visited Montevideo in March. He noted improvements in some facilities such as Punta de Rieles, the building of new facilities, and the repair or closing of outdated facilities. He acknowledged some progress in the government’s plan gradually to transfer penitentiary supervision and staff to the INR. He urged the government to undergo comprehensive judicial reform, stating that “preventive pretrial detention should be an exception and not the rule.” Nowak also stressed that the lack of separation between sentenced and unsentenced (60 percent) prisoners was a violation of the right to presumption of innocence.
Improvements: The INR increased inmate capacity by 1,266 in Comcar. The prison ombudsman’s May report indicated the application of a law for rehabilitation through work permitted prisoners to reduce their prison sentences by two days for each work or study day completed. The INR signed a contract with the Uruguayan Rowing Federation to have competition rowboats built by Comcar prisoners. OSLA made agreements with the State Waterworks Company and the Postal Service to find job opportunities for prisoners upon release, as well as for their families. Authorities granted only 6 percent of prisoners (mostly women) temporary outings. The ombudsman reported 23 percent of prisoners in the 29 detention centers worked or studied; in some rural prisons, up to 80 percent worked or studied. The INR’s hiring of new civilian corrections officers provided the system with additional staff.