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Projects for the implementation of the Prison Reform in Panama

In line with the development of a comprehensive prison reform strategy in Panama, which has adressed different issues such as prison overcrowding, high levels of pre-trial detention, lack of training and human rights violations, UNODC-ROPAN supported the Panamanian State (Ministry of Government, General Office of the Prison System, Prison Training Academy) through the provision of technical assistance and the implementation of three projects during the period between 2010 and 2017, which were financed by the Embassy of United States of America (INL) and the European Union.

The prison reform team has been made up of: María Noel Rodríguez, Projects Coordinator; Mariano Tenca, Specialist in Criminal Justice and Crime Prevention; Susanne Wilson, Project Assistant; and Luis Fernández, Project Assistant.

PANX12 - Project "Supporting the prison reform in Panama"

The PANX12 Project "Supporting the Prison Reform in Panama", implemented between October 2010 and September 2014, with the financial support of the Embassy of the United States of America, contributed to the design and implementation of a strategic plan for prison reform and the strengthening of the capacity of the personnel for a better management of the penitentiary system according to the international standards applicable to the subject, in specific areas such as the reopening of the Penitentiary Training Academy, training of prison staff, gender focus, social-labor reintegration (educational, productive and labor projects), among others, in order to guarantee a sustainable and lasting reform of the criminal justice system.

To learn more about the project and its achievements, click on the following resources ( PDF, Video):


This video highlights the achievements of the Panamanian Prison System through the technical and financial support of Project PANX12.

PANZ24 - Project "Security Cooperation in Panama - Penitentiary Component"

The Project "Security Cooperation in Panama - Penitentiary Component", implemented between March 2014 and March 2017, with the financial support of the European Union, sought to strengthen prison institutions as a basic and fundamental premise for the fulfillment of the objectives of the penitentiary system (security and rehabilitation), as well as to improve social reintegration aimed at adults deprived of their liberty, in line with international standards in the area of human rights and criminal justice, through the qualitative improvement of the academic curriculum, and the modernization of the General Directorate of the Penitentiary System of the Ministry of Government of Panama.

To learn more about the project and its achievements, click on the following resources ( PDF, Video):

Video :

This video highlights the achievements of the Panamanian Prison System through the technical and financial support of Project PANZ24-C4.

PANZ59 - "Consolidating prison reform improvements in Panama"

  The PANZ59 Project "Consolidating prison reform improvements in Panama", implemented between August 2015 and December 2017, with the financial support of the Embassy of the United States of America, continued supporting the implementation of the prison reform strategy initiated by the Panamanian authorities in 2010, aiming at improving prison conditions, reducing possible cases of human rights violation, strengthening the system's capacity to rehabilitate the people deprived of their liberty and providing training to prison staff, in order to establish the necessary conditions to achieve the sustainability of the reform with the resources of the Panamanian State.

  To learn more about the project and its achievements, click on the following resources ( PDF):


Implementing Prison Reform in Panama

The objective of the project is to develop an overall prison reform strategy that will address prison overcrowding, the large population of remanded prisoners, and the resulting human rights violations.

The specific objectives of the project are :

1. Developing a strategic plan for prison reform in Panama

2. Building capacity in the prison service

These objectives are to be achieved through the development of a strategic plan for prison reform in Panama and building capacity in the Prison Service.

PANX12 is carried out in accordance with the plan of action defined by the Panamanian Government that has been elaborated based on the four areas targeted for reform: infrastructure, personnel, security, and rehabilitation programs. Through PANX12, UNODC ROPAN provides direct technical and expert advice and financial support to the Ministry of the Government and the Penitentiary System so as to assist and support the Government in the implementation of the various reforms.

A roadmap for the implementation of prison reform in Panama (also known as the plan "For a second opportunity") has also been created, agreed to and approved by the Ministry of Government, and 70% has so far been implemented. To date the project has been able to assist the Panamanian Government in achieving a range of positive results in the process of prison reform. Despite an increased penitentiary population, the population density has been decreased as a result of various measures implemented by the government with the support of UNODC ROPAN.

The Panamanian Government continues to make various strides in this area and has forecasted a prison construction project will see the construction of new prisons in Panama City and Chiriquí with capacities of 5500 and 1000 respectively. This increase in penitentiary capacity will allow for further deduction in the population density within Panama's prisons. During this process of construction, UNODC will lend technical and advisory support to the Panamanian Government in a joint effort to ensure that the new facilities fall in line with international standards and norms for penitentiaries. Further results that have contributed to the reduction in penitentiary density include the following:

ü The number of persons to whom probation has been granted by the Executive has doubled. 628 persons received probation in 2010, and 1100 were given in 2012.

ü The number of prisoners who redeem penalty by work and study has been increased: 638 people in 2010, 718 in 2011, and 282 by April 2012.

ü 42% of the prison population is classified and therefore, granted access to prison privileges.

ü 10 of 15 prisons have integrated Technical Boards, and the remaining 5 prisons are currently in the integration process.

ü Additional space for 1500 prisoners, that meets international standards, has been inaugurated.

ü Greater coordination between the Penitentiary System, Judiciary and Prosecutors has been achieved.

Recognizing the important role played by penitentiary staff in ensuring security and managing the prisons on a daily basis, the Government has diligently pursued the simultaneous training of personnel within the prison system. Personnel have become active in knowledge networks and peer support forums on prison reform, and a number of programmes that support a reduction in the prison populations have been implemented. In an effort to consolidate the strengthening and increasing of the staff capacity within the penitentiary system, the Panamanian Government also pursued the reopening of the penitentiary Academy which took place in January 2011. The reopening of the Academy was significant in the process of Panamanian prison reform.

ü The Penitentiary Academy can boast norms and an updated curriculum, equipment, furniture and bibliography that allow for the training of 260 students simultaneously by highly motivated trainers.

ü After meeting admission requirements and passing the final proficiency test, 490 prison officers, who were trained for three months, have graduated from the Academy since February 2011, and have already been assigned to roles in various prisons throughout the country replacing the national police in those roles.

ü 1138 prison officials have expanded their knowledge and skills through several trainings on prisons matters: 740 in 2011 and 398 in 2012. This constitutes 61% in 2011 and 35% in 2012 of the total staff in the Penitentiary System.

ü About 35 trainers have been trained through one or more study visits and training courses, and they have in turn trained, 1188 prison officers as a follow up to their experiences. Some of them have been trained more than once.

ü 600 prison officers have received a kit of prison training materials (For example: compendium of prison norms, prison handbooks, etc). Training courses for penitentiary officers on Security and Rehabilitation (AVIR in Spanish), includes 300 hours of mandatory reading and 30 hours of courses which allow for the updating of knowledge.

ü Training and "Training of Trainers" is provided by UNODC ROPAN, using modules which have been developed specifically for Panama.

As a result of the range of workshops, mentorships and study visits in which all prison managers and department heads of the Penitentiary System of Panama have participated, it can be noted that:

ü 100% of prison managers have increased their management and leadership skills within the context of international standards.

ü 50 prison officials participated in 10 day study visits to the Dominican Republic (New Management Model Prison). Each participant obtained a performance certificate and submitted a work plan was elaborated and submitted authorities upon their return and subsequently put in to practice.

ü There has been an increase in the number of detainees involved in rehabilitation programs.

ü Increased number of family visits (visits with children), 2 to 4 times a year, and intimate visits including women prisoners are promoted.

ü 90% of the prisons have a regimental schedule supported by a daily schedule of activities.

ü Two posters, one for the campaign to prevent Corruption and the other for the campaign 'Give a Book to Jail' to collect books for prisons, were prepared and printed to be placed in several offices of the Penitentiary System. 5.768 books were collected to equip libraries in prisons in the framework of the Public Campaign that began in March 2012.

ü 100% of prisons are implementing the best practices learned during the study visits as well as the best practices of national prison centres which were exchanged at the workshops held around the country.

ü Seven prisons have special care programmes for detainees with additions to drugs, sex offenders and social skills development, which will be progressively replicated throughout the country.

ü The project has also provided support in the elaboration of a draft Code of Ethics for penitentiary officers based on the document prepared by the Council of Europe.

Six consultancies have also been conducted to assess the main issues of concern to the Ministry of Government such as health, alternatives to imprisonment, design of the organizational structure, operational plan and the curriculum of the Penitentiary Academy, elaboration of the Data Management System, among others. In addition, a Grant Agreement with the Latin American Institute of the United Nations for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (ILANUD according to its acronym in Spanish), has been executed during the first phase to develop a comprehensive plan for penitentiary training.

It is important to mention that activities under the project are conducted in coordination with ILANUD and the Centre of Excellence on Prison Reform and Drug Demand Reduction in the Dominican Republic. Through this programme, ROPAN also works closely with other UN agencies, the OAS, NGOs and independent experts. Furthermore, various activities are coordinated with yet another ROPAN initiative, " Increasing the Capacity for Prison Reform through Alternatives to Imprisonment", which focuses on the Telematic Tracking System using the electronic monitoring bracelet .

Every activity undertaken by the programme is subject to a detailed report, and surveys have been designed to allow the parties involved to measure the impact and utility of the particular activity, as well as to determine the aspects that must be logistically improved. After each study visit, a meeting to share experiences is held, and reports/consultations are presented in a workshop attended by all stakeholders. In addition, activity reports are sent to donors on a monthly basis.


The general objective of the second phase of this project, which was initiated in July 2012, is to continue the prison reform strategy initiated by Panamanian authorities, who will seek humanization of prison conditions and professionalization of prison staff.

While maintaining the same methodological approach, the second phase of the project will focus on the following three specific objectives:

  1. Provide support to the operation of the Prison Training Academy.

a) Acquisition of technological equipment, furniture and library materials that will contribute to staff training.

b) Training teachers in the Penitentiary Academy.

c) Create and implement an evaluation and performance system.

d) Increased participation in study and training courses both nationally and internationally.

  1. Improving confinement conditions of women deprived from liberty.

a. Design of a programme for women deprived of liberty to allow them greater opportunities to seek social reintegration while taking gender particularities into account

b. Design of protocols and regulations for women's prisons that address the specifics of the female prison population.

c. Training of staff in the use of these protocols and regulations to ensure enhanced gender awareness.

  1. Strengthen the educational, labour and production activities of persons deprived of liberty

a. Diagnosis of the current situation in education, employment and production matters in prisons.

b. Proposal of operational and functional restructuring of the Directorate of the Penitentiary System for a better implementation of educational, employment and training programmes.

c. Proposal for education, work and training programs for persons deprived of liberty.