Prison Failing to Reform Uruguay Low-Level Drug Offenders

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According to a top Uruguayan government official, the recidivism rate for low-level drug offenders is 100 percent, a phenomenon that many other Latin American countries will have to confront as the domestic drug market continues to grow.

“Of the people incarcerated for drug microtrafficking, 100 percent of them return to the same type of crime after they are freed,” Vice Minister of the Interior Jorge Vazquez said during an interview with the Ministry’s television show

Overall, the recidivism rate for Uruguay’s inmates is thought to be 60 percent, according to El Pais.  

Vazquez also said that he believed in order to more effectively combat drug trafficking, authorities need to target the financial side of organized crime. “We must go after the money they use to buy drugs, their bank accounts and any businesses they may establish,” Vazquez said during the interview.

So far this year, 1,193 low-level drug offenders have been arrested in Uruguay, Vazquez added. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The domestic market for drugs is growing throughout Latin America, meaning more than ever before, governments across the region have to deal with how to best process low-level drug offenders in their respective justice systems. This also involves figuring out to deal with recidivism, which contributes to Latin America’s endemic prison overcrowding. Vazquez’s comments imply that the Uruguayan government may be more willing than others to openly admit that penalizing small-time drug traffickers is not working, as the recividivism rate clearly shows. 

SEE ALSO:  Uruguay News and Profiles

Uruguay is already pursuing an alternative drug policy by creating Latin America’s first legal market for marijuana. However, while the government has previously released directives instructing the police and judiciary to focus on targeting large-scale drug traffickers, in practice, the security forces still tend to focus on low-level offenders, according to the Transnational Institute’s Drug Law Reform Project. This is obviously an area where the country could continue to improve, as Vazquez himself suggested. 

For now, there’s little sign that other countries in the region will go as far as Uruguay has, in terms of implementing an alternative drug policy. Some countries have even seen reversals — in Ecuador, the country is moving towards replacing its relatively progressive drug policy with a “zero tolerance” approach championed by President Rafael Correa.

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