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

Specific population

The Ministry of the Interior and the National Rehabilitation Institution (INR) do not publish prison statistics in a systematic manner in their web pages. The existent facts are provided in reports by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Penitentiary Affairs or by the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (MNP), and are the results of requests for reports from the Ministry of the Interior and the INR.
The incarcerated population has had an augmentation of 250% between 1999 and 2016, going from 4,117 prisoners to 10,303. As of June 2017, the number of prisoners had increased to 11,500.

In turn, the rate of incarceration by June 2017 reached 330 people for every 100,000 inhabitants, the second highest rate in the region after Brazil. In 2000, the rates were around 135 prisoners for every 100,000 inhabitants.

The increase in the prison population is as a result of changes in the criminal law (creation of new types of crimes and increased penalties), the move to a highly repressive policy on crime, and the malfunctioning of criminal justice. These circumstances have resulted in an increase in the prison population, coupled with new restrictions on access to intra-prison benefits.

In Uruguay, the use of pre-trial imprisonment is the rule and not an exception. In June 2017, the percentage of prisoners in pre-trial detention was 64%.

There is no separation between those in pre-trial and those convicted. Placement of each prisoner depends more, in practice, on the places available than the consideration of the individuals’ legal situation. There is only one Unit (Unit 6, known by the name Runta de Rieles) which is intended to only accommodate convicts.

The overall overcrowding rate was around 115 % in 2016. However, eight of 29 penitentiary institutions have overcrowding rates higher than 120%. Among them, three units (Units 3, 4 and 7) alone account for almost 60% of the prison population in the country, and the housing conditions offered to prisoners are degrading: overcrowding, lack of light and water, the presence of rodents and the accumulation of rubbish, and dilapidated cells.
The authorities justify this by claiming that these conditions result from vandalism on the part of the prisoners.

The incarcerated population is primarily composed of young people, poor, marked by very precarious career paths, and living in neighbourhoods that lack the resources to reverse the processes of economic and social imbalance.

Pre-trial detainees

64 %

June 2017 - Office of Planning and Budget

The proportion of incarcerated females represents, as of December 2016, 5.8 % of the total incarcerated population.
The prison system has a specific unit for woman-Unit 5 and another for women with minor children- Unit 9-.
In addition to this, there are mixed prisons with women-only areas, which also accommodate children up to the age of four. Women-only areas, although located in the same compound as men, are separated according to international rules.

In general, they offer better accommodation conditions, especially when it comes to cleanliness. However, their work, study and recreation spaces are less well maintained and their access is more limited, because there is a strong gender bias that favours men’s units, in terms of access to work and professional training. Although theoretically all those incarcerated are supposed to have access to the same prison regime, the authorities justify these imbalances on the grounds that the majority of the prison population is made up of men.

Unit 5, the only unit in the country that accommodates only women, has been the subject of countless criticism from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Prisons and the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (MNP), concerning the living conditions and the application of disciplinary punishment (placement in solitary confinement). By the end of 2016, the National Rehabilitation Institute (INR) closed the disciplinary sector of Unit 5, in accordance with the recommendations of these institutions.

The medical care of Unit 5 falls within the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Health. The service is generally good, despite complaints about the amount of psychotropic drugs consumed by detained women in order for them to bear life in prison and also the non-compliance with outside medical indications.

A majority of the female prison population is incarcerated due to drug-related offences, followed by homicides and damage to property.

The increase in the rate of imprisonment of women is directly related to drug trafficking because, in this case, they have roles and carry out tasks that correspond to micro-trafficking, which consequently, makes them easy targets for policies that fight against drug trafficking.
For example, many foreign women prisoners are linked to drug trafficking offences, being themselves the vehicle for transporting substances (commonly known as “mules”).

Prison staff in direct contact with female prisoners are predominantly female, although there have been reports of male staff entering restricted areas by international rules without the company of female staff. Despite this, there were no reports of sexual abuse or prostitution 1.

The specific needs of women are generally taken into account. However, there is a strong political propensity towards gender bias that tends to make women feel guilty and belittled if they become pregnant during their period of incarceration.

Unit 9 (Montevideo) is exclusively reserved for detained women with infants. The other units also welcome pregnant women and young mothers, because Unit 9 has a reduced number of places. In addition, mother-inmates from the interior of the country are not sent to this unit because it is far from their family and social circle. Women prisoners are, in theory, entitled to conjugal visits. However, the internal rules of the units and sectors in which they are housed impose different conditions for them than for men, by reinforcing the moral and moralistic models to which women are subjected (i.e. to prove that the visitor is a stable partner, to show appropriate conduct and to respect the disciplinary rules in force).

All units have rules of procedure that, although inspired by Decree Law n°14.470 which governs the penitentiary system, contain a large number of discriminations which undermine the exercise of the rights of persons incarcerated.

  1. Parliamentary Commissioner for Penitentiary Affairs, “Annual Report - 2016”, p. 46 

Number of specific institutions for women


Ministry of Interior - 2017

Female prisoners

5.8 %

/ Annual report of the Penitentiary Parliamentary Commissioner

Juvenile justice is entrusted to the specialized juvenile criminal courts, in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Childhood and Adolescence (Law n°17.823).

The legal age of criminal responsibility is fourteen years. A referendum proposed by right-wing parties, which aimed at lowering the age of criminal responsibility, was rejected in 2014.

The institution in charge of the implementation of judicial measures concerning adolescents is the National Institute for the Social Integration of Adolescents (INISA), created by Law n°19.367.

Adolescents in conflict with the law are assigned to one of fourteen juvenile detention centres. One of them exclusively accommodates the girls. The other 13 receive the boys. No centre has links to the adult criminal justice system.

As is the case for adults, the population of adolescent detainees is predominantly male. In January 2017, 22 teenage girls were detained, two of who had dependent children (between 0 and 2 years). It is estimated that the proportion of adolescent girls in detention represents about 4% of the total number of adolescents who are detained.

The visit regime is set twice a week between 8am and 4pm.

Cells generally host at least two teenagers, whether girls or boys.

One of the objectives of INISA is to carry out educational and / or vocational training activities, since its main mission is to ensure the social and community-based integration of adolescents in conflict with the criminal law.

Conditions of detention of adolescents have been the subject of persistent and systematic criticism and complaints have been lodged. Inadequate housing conditions and the use of ill treatment are mainly implicated, as well as the application of a model inspired by modern penitentiary ideals.

There have been reports of abuse and abuse of authority by officials. The National Mechanism for Prevention (MNP) regularly publishes reports describing conditions of detention and the working practices with delinquent adolescents.

An unprecedented event in the history of the youth criminal justice system occurred in June 2015, when 17 officials were sentenced to prison due to denunciation by the INISA authorities themselves. The acts committed by the accused were described as crimes of torture. On July 24, they were ordered to house arrest for 90 days, after which the sentence was deemed to have been served.

On the 29 June 2017, UN expert Jorge Cardona visited several centres for adolescents. His conclusions were as overwhelming as those expressed in the report of the former UN Special Reporter on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, in 2009: “the treatment that the juvenile delinquents receive there is similar to that which political prisoners during the dictatorship were subjected to […] “1. So far, no institutional response has been made to these charges.

The National Rehabilitation Institute (INR) has not recently published reliable figures on the number of foreigners incarcerated.

According to public information from 2013, 260 foreign nationals were imprisoned that year in Uruguay. Most were from Argentina. There were also Colombian, Peruvian, and Mexican prisoners.

Most of the foreign prisoners, both male and female alike, find themselves incarcerated for offences related to drug trafficking. For this purpose, they are assigned to Unit 3, the maximum-security unit of the penitentiary system.

Recently, the INR has set up a special work program on the care of imprisoned foreigners. The content and actions provided for in this program have not been made public.

Foreign prisoners

2.8 %

/ World Prison Brief

The National Rehabilitation Institute (INR) does not publish data on the LGBTI population, such as its socio-demographic characteristics and the criminal typologies that lead them to prison.

However, the INR has created through its Department for Gender Equality, a program for the trans population, including separate accommodation and specific workshops. This program is only for the trans population identified in the capital´s male detention units.

The National Rehabilitation Institute (INR) does not publish data on incarcerated elderly people.

They are received under the same conditions and treated in the same way as the rest of the prison population.

People with disabilities do not enjoy conditions of detention adapted to their disabilities. The National Reintegration Institute (INR) provides public registers detailing their number and their characteristics.

People suffering from severe psychiatric disorders declared criminally irresponsible are placed in a public psychiatric hospital (Vilardebó Hospital), but are separated from other patients who have not committed crimes.