Developing new chances beyond bars in Uruguay

men at computers
Detainees at the Punta de Rieles penitentiary receive skills training. Photo: UNDP Uruguay

Walter Paparamborda had a few days to go before his release from Punta de Rieles Rehabilitation Centre, where he arrived in 2011.  He was looking forward to walking out of the prison with new blacksmith skills, gained from his participation in a labour programme that’s part of the prison reform in Uruguay.

He will now be able to earn a wage. “This job is a good opportunity for me and I would like to make the most of it, to be with my daughters, my wife, and my family. To be accepted back into society,” he said.  


  • Punta de Rieles has 22 programs that involve 85% of the inmates.
  • Uruguay’s recidivism rates dropped from 70% in 2005 to 53% in 2015. The rate for those leaving Punta de Rieles is only 2%.
  • In 2015, 201 prisoners were released and only four reoffended.
  • 360 people are involved in internships in the public and private sector.
  • 400 people involved in the direct care of the detainees were trained.

The labour skills program is part of the "Justice and Inclusion programme", run by the Uruguayan Government with the support of the European Union, UNDP, the International Labour Organisation, and the Pan-American Health Organization. It aims to ensure the protection of detainees’ human rights and to improve social cohesion through an efficient juvenile justice and penitentiary system.

The program trains inmates on a variety of professions, including carpentry, hydroponics and organic orchard growing, information science, and construction. Job search workshops teach inmates about CV preparation and instruct on vocational options. Dialogues are held to improve coordination between the various players in the prison system, including teachers, police, and prison operators.

High quality education prison programmes are a key input of public policies on peace and security which help reduce recidivism of the prison population and violence in the streets.

Alejandro González has spent almost half of his 42 years behind bars. “After more than 16 years in other prisons, today I am in an open system, which gives us the possibility to work and study. There is no comparison with other prisons," he said.

Poor prison conditions are frequent in many countries, but in Uruguay, the government has acknowledged the problem and is taking actions to remedy it. With support from EU and UN Agencies, the Government launched the reform of the prison system and a programme to support the social inclusion of detainees.

Penitentiary system officials formed guidelines for the inmate’s daily activities and educational programs, stressing that all interventions should be focused with a human rights approach. 400 people involved in the direct care of the detainees were trained in order to ensure the sustainability of education and employment programs.

The results are promising, especially in regards to social integration of detainees through jobs and education, community support and assistance to the inmates’ families. Currently 360 people are involved in internships in the public and private sector. Recidivism rates dropped from 70% in 2005 to 53% in 2015. This decrease is higher among inmates who take part in internship programmes, where the recidivism rate is 6%.

“We have to put an end to overcrowding. Our most ambitious goal is to provide detainees with new skills and jobs so that they can start a new life when they leave the prisons,” said Minister of Interior of Uruguay Eduardo Bonomi.

Ney Cafazo Barboza was transferred to Punta de Rieles Rehabilitation Centre, serving the rest of his sentence while teaching students from other prisons.  He lectures up to 225 prisoners in groups of 15 on donated used computers.

“I develop programmes that are really effective for teaching IT in prisons,” said Barboza.

He has two more years in prison and looks forward to using his new skills to build a new and productive life when he regains freedom. “As for my plans for the future, I want my family to see that something good can come out of something bad,” he concluded.

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