Published 1st December 2018.

After the candidate of the Frente Amplio party José Mujica’s presidential victory in March 2010, Uruguay started an important reform process to its penitentiary system. Seven years later, this small and peaceful country has one of the highest incarceration rates in South America. To date, the reform has yielded the creation of the first public-private managed prison, a permanent solitary confinement wing at the Unit N°4 (Montevideo) and conditional release was removed from the Code of Criminal Procedure in November 2017.

The political militant Rolando Arbesún , an expert on prisons and correspondent for Prison Insider, has produced a thorough study of the reform process in his latest book titled “The Impossible Prison. A History of Penitentiary Reform in Uruguay” We spoke with him about this important work and he gave us a behind the scenes look into the machinery driving the reform, its failures but also the possibility of getting it back on track. Exclusive interview with Prison Insider.

The expectations were high because the Uruguayan penitentiary system has undergone three reform processes in the course of its history.

This influence over the strategic management of the reforms was a form of intellectual colonisation.

(...) the situation within prisons is dysfunctional in spite of a left-wing ideology. I think that makes the problem more difficult.

We need to generate a process of reform for prisons in Latin America that is true to our history...


Rolando Arbesún Rodriguez

Expert on the prison issue in Uruguay

Rolando Arbesún is an expert on prisons in Uruguay. During his rich professional career, he has worked as researcher and teacher in several countries of the region, as a prison governor, and as a consultant for the National Rehabilitation Institute. He is an advocate for prisoners’ rights. He was also the first director of Punta Rieles, a model prison in Uruguay that offers alternative methods of imprisonment. Rolando Arbesún has been the Prison Insider correspondent since June 2017.

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