Prison and detention center conditions continued to be poor and potentially life threatening in some facilities. A 2016 report to parliament classified 26 percent of prisons as having conditions of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and 33 percent with insufficient conditions for rehabilitation.
Physical Conditions: Parliament’s special rapporteur on the prison system reported that severe overcrowding affected sections of prisons in the departments of Canelones, Maldonado, Tacuarembo, Salto, Artigas, Treinta y Tres, and Cerro Largo as well as the capital city of Montevideo. A report to parliament by the National Mechanism against Torture (MNP) entity, under the country’s National Institution of Human Rights (INDDHH), reported that in 2016 the major deficiencies of the prison system were endemic and that prison authorities had not made significant advancements. The report described overcrowding, a high proportion of prisoners without sentences, severe garbage disposal problems affecting hygiene and environment conditions, management problems affecting facilities and services, a lack of socioeducational programs for prisoner reinsertion into society, and inadequate classification of prisoners due to a lack of uniform and coherent criteria (particularly for women).
The situation for female inmates varied around the country. The MNP reported 60 percent of women were located in two facilities in Montevideo, including one for mothers with children. Children accompanying their mothers lived in facilities with problems such as poor planning and design, security concerns due to a lack of prisoner classification, health and environmental concerns for young children, a lack of specialized services and facilities, and undefined and unclear policies for special-needs inmates. The remaining 40 percent of women prisoners were held in separate facilities within male prisons throughout the country. According to the INDDHH, women were located in the worst parts of the units. This led to difficulties in access to food, intimate spaces, and visits with family members as well as difficulties obtaining information and technical and human resources.
The MNP reported that in December 2016 (latest information available) the National Institute for Adolescent Social Inclusion held 470 juvenile offenders in its facilities, of whom 98 were awaiting sentencing. Some were imprisoned at age 17 and remained in prison for up to five years. In July Carolina Barbara, coordinator for the rights of children of the World Organization Against Torture, visited facilities and reported continued mistreatment of inmates, unresolved understaffing problems, and excessive use of preventive detention.
The special rapporteur reported that 29 of 47 prisoner deaths in 2016 were due to prisoner-on-prisoner violence and 12 prisoner deaths were a result of suicide. In 2016 there were more homicides and suicides in prisons than in any of the previous 11 years. Most deaths (71 percent) took place in Units 3 and 4, the largest prison facilities in Montevideo. The lack of educational and occupational activities for inmates was a major source of fighting and death among inmates. Shortages in personnel and basic elements of control, such as security cameras, made prevention, control, and clarification of facts in security incidents difficult. The rapporteur added that shortages of prison staff to securely transport and accompany inmates affected prisoners’ ability to participate in workshops, classes, sports, and labor-related activities. Some lawyers held video conferences with their clients due to the unsafe conditions that prevented them from visiting certain modules in Montevideo.
The special rapporteur noted many inmates had mental health problems that were not treated in prison. He added it was difficult for inmates to access psychological or psychiatric help or to participate in social programs or support groups to prevent suicidal acts. Annual clinics had been discontinued, and often operational difficulties (lack of officials, overwhelming workload, lack of coordination) prevented inmates from being taken to medical appointments. The public mental health hospitals that received prisoners suffered overcrowding and infrastructure problems.
In June a court ruled against the government on a writ of protection case on behalf of seven prisoners suffering from serious malnutrition due to bullying from other prisoners. The court decision established a 72-hour period for the government to relocate the prisoners, provide them proper access to food and hygiene products, and prepare individualized recovery plans, and prison officials complied.
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 of the country’s 19 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. Parliament’s special rapporteur on the prison system, the INDDHH, and the MNP were also allowed to monitor prisons.
Improvements: The MNP reported that the National Institute for Rehabilitation (INR) closed a maximum-security area in a Montevideo unit because of its poor conditions, following recommendations from the special rapporteur. The INR launched a program to assist migrant and foreign prisoners with legal and psychological counseling, translation and communication services, and socioeducational support. The Gender and Diversity Unit of the INR organized programs for inmates on gender discrimination; gender-based violence; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights; and the role of men in society and the culture of machismo. The diversity unit also implemented a protocol to better address the situation of children of prisoners. In addition, the unit trained INR employees to manage security issues with a gender perspective in mind.
The INR and a local bank signed an agreement to provide banking services to prisoners engaged in small businesses inside Punta de Rieles prison. In August the INR and the National Weather Service signed an agreement for prisoners to do building and maintenance work at weather forecasting stations throughout the country. The INR and the Montevideo municipality agreed to allow prisoners to perform maintenance and repair work in the city.
Punta de Rieles prisoners toured Montevideo neighborhoods to educate youth about the negative personal impact of being in prison and the challenges of facing life after release. Four female inmates in Montevideo opened a delicatessen for prison guards, prisoners, and family members.