Contributor(s)Prison Insider


The judicial and prison systems have recently been reformed in order to improve detention conditions.

Panama implemented a sweeping reform of its judicial system, moving it from an inquisitorial system to an adversarial one. The purpose of the reform is both to speed up the legal process and to reduce the number of instances where prosecutors and judges resort to pre-trial detention. A computerized system for monitoring prisoners has also been implemented. It should help shorten long detention times.

Prison system reform aims to improve staff training. This includes abuse prevention, in particular the prevention of corruption, and a drive to increase staff levels where there are shortages. The European Union and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are backing this reform. Libraries and computer rooms are being set up in certain facilities.

However, these reforms have not had an impact on the significant overpopulation of prisons that still exists today. Prison conditions are poor. Access to healthcare, in particular, is lacking and there is a shortage of medical personnel and supplies to care for serious cases.

Gang leaders are sent to the Punta Coco high security solitary confinement prison which is operated by the Ministry of Public Security. The other prisons are managed by the Ministry of Government and Justice. Inmates there are subjected to extreme and permanent isolation. The building is unsanitary and access to justice is not guaranteed. The Panama Ombudsman, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have all called for its closure. All three have recognised the inhuman and degrading conditions.

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Type of government

Presidential democracy

Human Development Index