Prison and detention center conditions continued to be harsh and potentially life threatening in some facilities.
Physical Conditions: The National Rehabilitation Institute (INR) reported 10,228 prisoners in facilities with a capacity for approximately 9,095 inmates. Approximately 65 percent of the prisoners were awaiting sentencing. Some facilities had inadequate sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, medical care, and access to potable water. Prisoners depended on visitors for clothing and lacked sufficient food to reach their daily minimum caloric intake. Female and poorer male prisoners often received no support from their families.
Some prison facilities were inadequate. Many lacked formal clearances from the fire department. The INR closed the El Molino facility in Montevideo due to poor building conditions and transferred nine women with 10 accompanying children to an annex of the Unidad Penitenciaria No.5. The public mental health hospitals Vilardebo, Colonia Etchepare, and Santin Carlos Rossi, which held prisoners, suffered overcrowding and infrastructure problems.
In April and June, Juan Miguel Petit, the country’s special rapporteur on the prison system, reported that the conditions of modules 8, 10, and 11 of unit 4 of Comcar prison were very bad. The report described inadequate building conditions, rodent infestation, poor hygiene of inmates, overcrowding, and insufficient space designated for work, educational activities, and family visits. The report also stated few inmates had access to exercise activities and noted a lack of reliable medical attention, due to understaffing. The rapporteur alerted prison authorities to a serious problem of internal violence in several prison facilities and requested urgent action.
Five prisoners died in these facilities in the first half of the year due to violence. In September a male prisoner died in one of the units of Comcar prison as the result of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. In an overcrowded facility in the department of Maldonado, prisoners set fire to mattresses and caused damage to the prison infrastructure. Two police officers were injured during the incident. Lawyers provided to prisoners who could not afford legal counseling held video conferences with their clients due to unsafe conditions that prevented them from visiting modules 8, 10, and 11.
In December 2015 the government created INISA to replace SIRPA, and in June INISA authorities took over management of the organization. According to the new director, many facilities were aging or damaged and could not be refurbished due to budget limitations, which additionally affected hiring staff. An audit of the buildings presented by the Bureau of Architecture in the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works concluded that most facilities were inadequate to develop and implement rehabilitation programs.
In July the Pan American Health Organization presented the results of a 2015 poll on prisoner health conditions. The report noted that four of 10 prisoners were overweight or obese due to lack of physical activity, medical treatment was inadequate, and 74 percent of prisoners smoked tobacco and 33 percent smoked marijuana. In addition, 19 percent took psychotropic drugs without prescriptions or medical controls, 5 percent consumed cocaine paste, and 3 percent consumed cocaine powder. Slightly more than 8 percent attempted suicide, and 18 percent alleged suffering mistreatment.
In August the government’s National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture reported as major problems the lack of sufficiently trained staff, poor building conditions that resulted in overcrowding and violence, and insufficient social and educational activities. Concerning INISA facilities, the report noted pervasive use of psychotropic drugs, with scarce medical control.
In September the labor union for law enforcement personnel expressed concern over the working conditions of police officers and civilian prison staff members in some facilities. Union representatives noted unhealthy and dangerous labor conditions, such as extended work hours (shifts of 12 to 18 hours) and unmanageable responsibilities, including an instance where a single guard, without adequate communication systems, was in charge of monitoring 700 detainees.
Administration: Independent authorities investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. The Office of Probation Measures continued to lack sufficient human and financial resources to work in most departments.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, local human rights groups, media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and international bodies. The country’s special rapporteur on the prison system and the National Institution of Human Rights (INDDHH) were also allowed to monitor prisons.
Improvements: In March the State Health Services Administration collaborated with the INR on a program to provide medical and psychological support to drug-addicted prisoners in Montevideo. In May officials from the INR and INISA participated in six workshops on prison management led by experts from a foreign country.
Authorities provided inmates several new options for work, both during incarceration and after release. The government’s budget law created the National Unit to Support Released Prisoners. The INR and the National Institute for Employment and Professional Training signed an agreement to teach prisoners skills in garment making, construction, carpentry, cooking, and vegetable gardening. In February volunteer prisoners joined municipal workers of the department of Salto to clean up the city after major floods. The Salto municipality also agreed to hire 16 inmates, who were allowed to leave the prison compound on a regular basis to do work for the community. In September the Ministry of Interior and the Canelones municipality signed an agreement for 27 prisoners to repair sidewalks and lanes at a local resort. In June a private fishing-port services operator in Montevideo began hiring former prisoners for its operations. The INR created industrial sites in the departments of Canelones, Maldonado, and Salto to help prisoner rehabilitation.
Government authorities and private entities also provided other opportunities for adult prisoners to participate in sports activities, such as soccer and rugby. In June INISA began a pilot program to train juvenile inmates in sports to allow them to compete in events at the national level.