Implementing Prison Reform in Panama
The overall objective of this project is to develop a comprehensive prison reform strategy that addresses prison overcrowding, the large population of people in custody, the lack of staff training, and human rights violations.
The project is carried out in accordance with the action plan defined by the Panamanian Government. This plan has been developed on the basis of the four areas of focus for reform: infrastructure, personnel, safety and rehabilitation programmes.
Through this initiative, and in an effort to support the Government of Panama in the implementation of reforms, UNODC ROPAN offers assistance and direct technical expertise, as well as financial support, to the Ministry of Government and the prison system.
Implementation is based on a programmatic approach divided into two phases. The first phase lasted 20 months (October 2010 - July 2012) which contributed to the design and implementation of a strategic plan for prison reform and strengthening the capacity of staff for better management of the prison system in accordance with the applicable international standards. The second phase, with a duration of 18 months (August 2012 - January 2014), seeks to mould these objectives into more specific areas (academia, women, education, productivity and labour) that help to ensure a sustainable and lasting reform of the criminal justice system.
In this context, a roadmap for the implementation of prison reform in Panama (also known as the strategic plan "For a Second Chance") was developed. It was agreed to and approved by the Ministry of Government and 70 % has been implemented to date. The project has supported the Panamanian Government in achieving a number of positive results in the process of prison reform. In this sense, and despite the increase in the prison population, it can be concluded that, as a result of various measures taken by the Government of Panama with the support of UNODC ROPAN, prison density has decreased.
The Panamanian Government continues to progress in this field and a project which would allow for the construction of new prisons in Panama City and the Province of Chiriqui, with capacities for 5500 and 1200 persons deprived of liberty respectively. This increased capacity will have a direct impact on the reduction of prison density in Panama. During the construction process, UNODC will support the Government of Panama with technical assistance in a joint effort to ensure that new facilities meet the relevant international standards and norms.
Furthermore, recognizing the importance of the role of prison staff to ensure the daily safety and management of prisons, the Government of Panama has diligently promoted simultaneous and continuous training of staff of the Prison System. Staff members have become active participants in knowledge networks and peer support forums on prison reform. Similarly, a number of support programmes focused on reducing the prison population have been implemented. In an effort to consolidate and strengthen the capacity building of personnel within the prison system, the Panamanian Government managed to reopen the Prison Training Academy in January 2011, leading to the Academy becoming instrumental in the process of reforming the Panamanian prison system.
- The Prison Academy boasts a set of rules, an updated curriculum, equipment, furniture and literature that allow for the training of 260 students, who are taught by highly motivated teachers.
- The Academy has updated its study plans based on an academic curriculum for basic courses, induction courses for administrative staff, refresher courses, as well as classroom and virtual courses for executives.
- To date, 570 new Prisons Custodians were trained, having previously met the entry requirements and test final competition. This staff was assigned to various prisons in the country to replace national police officers who previously covered internal security.
- 2,400 academic interventions were performed during the three years of management of the Penitentiary Training Academy, in training and updating on prison material in the various fields.
- In the last quarter of 2013 the Academy has focused on conducting a nationwide call to evaluate, select and train prison staff both administrative and security, who will initiate work in the Nueva Joya Facilities.
- The academy was approved for salary increases for prison staff, from U.S. $ 450 to U.S. $ 690 monthly salary basis , making it a competitive compensation in the domestic labor market .
Six consultations were conducted with objective of assessing priority areas for the Ministry of Government, such as health, alternatives to incarceration, the design of an organizational structure, an operational plan and a curriculum for the Prison Training Academy, and the establishment of a data Management System.
As a result of these consultations, training, mentoring and study visits attended by the directors of prisons, department heads and other officials the Panamanian prison system, it is important to note that:
- 100% of the directors of prisons increased their management and leadership skills and now manage the centres according to international standards
- 50 correctional officers made ten-day study visits to the Dominican Republic (New Model Prison Management) . All directors and department heads obtained a certificate of performance and on his return, presented a work plan to the authorities, which is being implemented.
- 100% of the prisons implemented good practices learned during study visits and exchanges nationwide.
- With project financing, additional technical staff was hired to update assessments and contract consulting and tutoring in various subjects. These inputs were of great importance and technical quality and helped to strengthen the capacity of the Directorate General of Prisons to increase and improve social reintegration programmes.
- 26% of the detainees are developing educational, employment and/or production activities. Among the factors that contributed to the increase in the number of people participating in activities,the strengthening strategic alliances with non-governmental and international organizations is highlighted, having increased the number of teachers and resources for training and education that are provided in prisons.
- Between 2010 and October 2013, an increase of 11 % of detainees participating in educational programmes has been registered, whilethere has been an 8% increase for detainees participating in work programmes .
- As an unprecedented event in the region, the First Schedule Programme at the University of Panama was inducted into the Women's Rehabilitation Centre with three technical careers, with the support of UNODC. This experience will be replicated in other prisons.
- In 2011, the "Donate a Book to Jail" campaign was launched. To date, more than 8000 books have been donated, enabling libraries to be opened in prison centres of Las Tablas, La Joyita and La Joya, the latter with a study hall and computer training.
- With the financial and technical support of UNODC, new production projects such as Hydroponics and Tailoring (CEFERES and JEWEL) have been created. Four new classrooms for computer training (en El Renacer Penitentiary, La Joya Prison, Female Centre Penitentiary in Panama and Public Prison of La Chorrera) were also equipped.
- 90% of the prisons have a regimental daily schedule supported by a daily plan for activities, be they artistic, sporting and cultural, educational, amongst others.
- 12 new awareness programmes are currently being developed specialized in: drug addiction, social skills and sexual offenders and crime prevention. To implement these programs, and as part of the project, various exchanges and specialized trainings were conducted .
- With increase financial support to the project allowing for the creation of adequate space, family visits (visits with children) were allowed 2 to 4 times a year and intimate visits including women deprived of freedom.
Other major achievements of the reform project undertaken by the Government of Panama with technical assistance from UNODC , we can mention the following:
- A Care Programme for women deprived of liberty was initiated in September 2012, an inter-agency initiative with the aim of creating a space for participation and joint construction between the institutions linked to the problems of women deprived of liberty to improve the conditions of detention of these women in line with national and international regulations .
- Prison security personnel has been supported with the provision of new uniforms and safety equipment and protection, and training has also been provided in these areas through study visits and internships in other countries in the region.
- In 2011, the "Stop Corruption" campaign was developed and institutionalized, through which 311 allegations of corruption have been made, recognizing the rapid response to complaints and reports submitted.
- In 2012, with the assistance of UNODC and the Regional Anti-Corruption Academy for Central America and the Caribbean (ARAC), the Code of Ethics for corrections officers was designed and adopted.
- With the support of the project, informational materials were developed, published and distributed to the prison population, placing fact sheets on the requirements and procedures of the most popular themes for the prison population, such as as probation, disciplinary procedures, rights and obligations, and commutation of sentences, in the common areas of each penal center of the country.
- At the request of the Penitentiary System, UNODC has prepared several technical advisory opinions on the following issues: corruption in prisons, using everyday clothing for the prison population, the right to participation of the prison population, challenges facing persons deprived of freedom of foreign origin, commutation and intimate visits of the prison population, among others.
- With the support of UNODC, the website of the Penitentiary System of Panama has been improved.
It is noteworthy to mention that project activities are carried out in coordination with UNODC's Latin American Institute and the Center of Excellence for Prison Reform (ILANUD). Through this project, ROPAN also coordinates efforts with other agencies of the United Nations, the OAS, NGOs and independent experts.
Each activity undertaken by the project is subject to a detailed report, and surveys that are designed to allow the involved parties to measure the impact and usefulness of each particular activity, and to determine aspects that should be improved logistically. After each study visit, meetings are held to share the experiences and workshops in which stakeholders and partners involved allow for the presentation of project reports. Similarly, project donors will be forwarded monthly reports of activities carried out under the project.
Youtube: Implementing Prison Reform in Panama
In response to the commitment and willingness of the Panamanian State, UNODC has been implementing the project 'Supporting prison reform in Panama' since October 2010. The project's main objectives are: to develop a comprehensive reform strategy aimed at the humanization of prison conditions and the professionalization of prison staff; and to contribute to the achievement of Panama's goal of having a modern, effective and efficient prison service in line with international standards.
This video highlights the achievements made by the Panamanian Prison System through the technical and financial support of this project implemented by the UNODC Regional Office for Central America and the Caribbean in Panama (UNODC ROPAN).