Contributor(s)Rolando Arbusún Rodríguez / Traslator: Briane Laruy / Reviewer: Ako Allan Agbor

The penitentiary system

Uruguay has 29 penitentiary units:

  • 1 unit of admission, diagnosis and assignment
  • 1 Maximum security unit: Unit 3 (San José Department, 53 km from Montevideo)
  • 9 medium security units:
  • Unit 4- known as COMCAR (located in Montevideo, the largest in the country). It contains: • 1 section of very high security, section 12, which contains the most strict and most illegal solitary confinement, • 3 high security sectors, • 3 middle security sectors, • 2 progressive sectors, • 2 special security regimes for sex offenders and police or law enforcement personnel.
  • Units 5 and 9 (females) (Montevideo),
  • Unit 6,
  • Unit 7,
  • Unit 8,
  • Unit 10,
  • Unit 12,
  • Unit 13.
  • 18 units with minimal security and maximum confidence: Units 2, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29.

The different units, with a few exceptions, are old buildings that have been renovated or refurbished. Prisons inside the country date back to the end of the nineteenth century - beginning of the twentieth century, which is why their buildings present various problems of construction and security. Almost all are located in the centre of the different cities or in the near surroundings.

A new penitentiary facility will be inaugurated at the end of 2017 in Punta Rieles, built based on a model of public-private partnership (PPP). The design of the project was entrusted to Spanish companies and the construction of the establishment to the Uruguayan company Stiler S.A. The total cost is 90 million US dollars. This detention centre will become the second largest in the country, with a capacity of 1 960 inmates. A consortium of three companies will manage the meal, cleaning, and laundry services at a cost of US $ 23 per day per prisoner

All prison staff - police officers and penitentiary operators - depend, through the National Rehabilitation Institute (INR), on the Ministry of the Interior.

In nearly 40% of the units, officials of the Ministry of Public Health provide medical care.

According to the figures of the Office of Planning and Budget of the President of the Republic, 2,686 officials worked at the INR at the end of 2016. Of these, 893 are budgeted posts, 120 are temporary, 1,659 are police officers, 5 are in contract with the public service and 9 are in contract with the police.

62% are police officers and 38% belong to the INR and have studied at the Prison Training Centre.

The number of prison officials is inadequate in all areas of the penitentiary system. In general, working conditions are inadequate, which affects the treatment of detainees.

Despite the development of skill training programs for police officers and operators, training remains insufficient. One of the main difficulties is admission criteria, because the level of education required is minimal; for example, it is not even mandatory to hold a baccalaureate.

In theory, the management of daily life and discipline are not entrusted to prisoners. However, in large and complex prisons, such as Unit 3 and Unit 4, there are groups of detainees who oppressively dominate other prisoners and act with the silent complicity of the authorities1.

In July 2017, following the Amparo appeal presented by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Penitentiary Affairs, eight prisoners from Ward 8 of Unit 4 were transferred to other units and sectors because they were undernourished, a consequence of intimidation by other detainees that prevented them from accessing their food rations.

  1. Parliamentary Commissioner for Penitentiary Affairs, “Annual Reports-2016”, p.16