The state of Uruguay applies a highly punitive penal policy. The incarceration rate of this country is the second highest in the region: 297 prisoners per 100 000 inhabitants in 2016. Between 1999 and 2017, the prison population went from 4 117 people to 11 500. The principal cause for this increase was the creation of new types of infractions, the application of longer custodial sentences, the restrictions of intra-prison benefits and the excessive use of pre-trial detention (65% of the incarcerated population in 2016).
The punitive penal policy has exacerbated during recent years and has experienced a considerable degeneration of incarceration conditions. Homicide constitutes the first cause of mortality in prison -31 in 2016-. The National Rehabilitation Institution (INR) has recently opened a solitary confinement block within Unit 4 (Montevideo), based on the American “supermax” model. The first prison constructed and managed by a private-public partnership, with an accommodation capacity of 1 900 prisoners, will be inaugurated by the end of 2017, and will be the second biggest prison in the country.
Nonetheless, it should be emphasized that the Uruguayan prisons also have some positive aspects. Unit 6 of Punta Rieles is known, both regionally and internationally, for being a model prison, with an open regime within which all detainees participate in professional and/or educational activities, and are encouraged to create their own income generating activities.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Penitentiary Affairs presented an amparo appeal before the court, after receiving a complaint that noted that six prisoners from Unit 4 had suffered malnutrition. After the Interior Ministry had lodged an appeal against an initial decision, the court of appeal made their decision on the 2 August 2017. They evoked the Mandela Rules and compelled the Interior Ministry to apply a personalised treatment on the six prisoners in question within 30 days. It is the first time in history that the Uruguayan case law had evoked the Mandela Rules, generating hope for the positive impact that it can have on the confinement conditions in the country.
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Nature of the political system
Human Development Index