Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, lack of internal control, and poor sanitary conditions.
Physical Conditions: Prisons and detention centers were overcrowded and underfunded. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners in all major facilities. On June 12, Director of the Penitentiary System Jorge Lopez Arenas reported that the total number of inmates nearly doubled from 7,200 in 2011 to 13,793, or 269 percent of the system’s designed capacity of 5,126 inmates. In remarks to the press, Lopez estimated use was approximately 150 percent of capacity. The NGO Pastoral Penitentiary estimated that overcrowding was nearer 350 percent. Some rural facilities reportedly held as many as 90 inmates in cells designed for 10. In Riberalta jail in Pando Department, prisoners hung appliances, pots, and pans in the prison’s kitchen area on the walls at night to make sleeping space for inmates. In Montero Prison in Santa Cruz, prisoners placed beds on cinder blocks and rented the space under the beds to the poorest of inmates who lacked sleeping space.
On June 17, Director Lopez reported that from January to May, 1,122 prisoners in La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba were subject to abbreviated trials under pre-existing pardon decrees. He did not indicate how many inmates were released because of the trials. On July 7, the Legislative Assembly passed a law providing for additional pardons to reduce overcrowding further. The law is to be valid for one year and provides special release for pregnant women in their third trimester and inmates with significant disabilities. Crimes such as murder, femicide, aggravated robbery, and kidnapping were excluded. Judges and prosecutors initiated trial proceedings within prisons to speed the process. NGOs expressed concern that the expedited processes encouraged innocent detainees to profess false guilt in order to enter into an abbreviated trial and secure release.
Due to a lack of internal policing, violence and riots among prisoners remained a problem. In January a man convicted in 2007 of murdering his first wife allegedly strangled to death his second wife of five years inside La Paz’s San Pedro Prison. Eight inmates were injured during a fire in August at Santa Cruz’s largest prison, Palmasola, demonstrating a continued trend of dangerous internal prison conditions. In 2013, 36 persons died in the same prison due to a fire started during a riot.
There were two women’s prisons located in La Paz, one in Trinidad, and one in San Sebastian, Cochabamba. In Morros Blancos Prison in Tarija, Montero Prison in Santa Cruz, Riberalta Prison in Beni, and Oruro Prison in Oruro, men and women shared sleeping facilities. In other facilities, men and women maintained separate sleeping quarters, but the populations comingled daily. Female inmates were sexually harassed on a regular basis, and some were reportedly forced to pay antirape extortion fees.
In 2014 Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera signed into law a new child and adolescent code that lowered the juvenile detention age from 16 to 14 and required juvenile offenders be housed in facilities separate from the general prison population in order to facilitate rehabilitation. Any adolescent under 14 years of age is exempt from criminal liability but may be subject to civil liability. At year’s end, however, no new juvenile facilities were built, and no budget had been devoted to implement the new legal requirements. As a result, hundreds of juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18 were intermingled with adult prisoners in jails due to a lack of sufficient juvenile-specific facilities. Adult inmates and police reportedly abused juvenile prisoners. Rehabilitation programs for juveniles or other prisoners remained scarce.
Although the law permits children up to the age of six to live with an incarcerated parent under “safe and regulated conditions,” children as old as 12 resided in detention centers with incarcerated parents, and conditions were regularly unsafe. The problem persisted despite a 2013 governmental plan to remove children from prisons. Pastoral Penitentiary reported in May that 912 children between the ages of seven and 12 lived with a parent in penitentiaries; Penitentiary System statistics from 2014 indicated another 1,200 children from infants to six-year olds lived with a parent in prison.
Due to persistent corruption, a prisoner’s wealth often determined his or her physical security, cell size, visiting privileges, ability to attend court hearings, day-pass eligibility, and place and length of confinement. In San Pedro Prison, 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. In Cochabamba’s El Abra Prison, inmates allegedly extorted from other inmates up to 48,000 bolivianos ($7,000) to protect them against being beaten, killed, and sexually assaulted. Inmates alleged there were an insufficient number of police officers to escort inmates to their judicial hearings, and credible NGOs reported that prison directors often refused to help facilitate the transfer of inmates to hearings, further delaying cases. Inmates also claimed police demanded bribes in exchange for allowing them to attend hearings.
Services to sustain basic needs were inadequate. Prisoners had access to potable water, but the standard prison diet was insufficient. Prisoners who could afford it supplemented rations by buying food. Following protests among prisoners, the government raised the daily allocation for a prisoner’s diet to the equivalent of eight bolivianos ($1.17) and 3.40 bolivianos ($0.50) for the diet of underage children living with their inmate parents. Although the law provides that prisoners have access to medical care, care was inadequate, and it was difficult for prisoners to obtain permission for outside medical treatment. Prisoners with chronic health conditions such as HIV and tuberculosis often went untreated. Prisoners lived, in some cases with their children, in overcrowded cells lacking ventilation. Hundreds of inmates protested and launched hunger strikes at various facilities throughout the year to demand better conditions.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate. Poor records and lack of adequate legal counsel led to cases in which prisoners remained incarcerated beyond the maximum sentence allowed for the crime for which they had been convicted. Alternatives to sentencing for nonviolent offenders were not used. Prisoners could submit complaints periodically to a commission of district judges for investigation, but due to fear of retaliation by prison authorities, inmates frequently did not submit complaints of abuses.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, local NGOs, judges, religious authorities, legislative representatives, and media representatives, and such visits took place during the year. On July 10, Pope Francis visited Santa Cruz’s Palmasola Prison. Civil society observers alleged that prison authorities covered up abuses and poor conditions in advance of and during the visit. They also alleged pardon laws were used liberally to reduce the prison’s population in advance of the papal visit and that innocent inmates may have pled guilty to secure release.