Uruguay is considering deporting foreign criminals back to their homeland, a move which could unclog the prison system and help prevent organized crime from taking hold in the country, or it could backfire and cause havoc both inside and outside jails.
The news follows controversy in Uruguay over the release by Argentina of high profile Uruguayan bank robber and jewel thief Luis Mario Vitette, who was released and sent back to his home country after less than eight years of a 21 year sentence, reported El Observador.
The move led Uruguayan Interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi to express concern about Argentina's practice of freeing and deporting foreign criminals upon completion of half their jail term.
According to El Observador, Uruguay's Deputy Interior Minister Jorge Vasquez considered emulating Argentina's policy. But Bonomi made it clear at a press conference on September 11 that criminals deported from Uruguay should complete their sentences in their country of origin.
The number of Uruguayans imprisoned overseas -- including 600 in Argentina -- is more than triple the foreign prisoner population in Uruguay. Almost half of Uruguay's foreign prisoner population is linked to drug trafficking, according to El Observador.
In the past two years, Argentina has freed and deported 150 Uruguayans, reported El Pais.
InSight Crime Analysis
While the issue of prisoner deportations appears to have hit the agenda in Uruguay because of indignation over the case of Vitette, it could also serve as a way of unclogging Uruguay's jail systems.
Another possible effect of such a move would be the prevention of organized crime infiltration into Uruguay, one of the countries least tainted by criminal groups in the region, as organized crime often migrates through the prison system
In Venezuela, Brazil and parts of Central America prisons have been a breeding ground for gangs and criminal groups, and in each of those countries gangs all but run the penitentiary system.
However, given the uneven balance of Uruguayans imprisoned abroad compared to the foreign prisoner population at home, any move to start deporting prisoners could cause chaos in Uruguay if the countries receiving prisoners follow suit. Not only would Uruguay likely receive many more prisoners than it deported, but those prisoners would come from countries where organized crime is much more deeply ingrained. This could result in criminality being imported, as was seen among Central America's "mara" gangs, which originated in the US penal system.