Contributor(s)Prison Insider

Physical integrity

The death penalty was abolished on August 22, 1916.

There are no life sentences. The maximum allowable sentence is 30 years.

Twenty-nine men died in detention during the last quarter of 2015, mainly due to violence among inmates and chronic disease (HIV, tuberculosis)1.

In its November 2016 press release, the Panamanian Committee for the Defence of Citizen Rights (COPADEDEC) denounced the high number of deaths resulting from the lack of medical care for prisoners (see Health)2.

A female inmate at the Rehabilitation Centre for Women (Doña Cecilia Chiari Orillac) died in April 2016. In spite of her requests, she received no treatment for her asthma attacks. Her death followed that of a 64-year-old female who died from severe anaemia a week earlier. These deaths caused a riot at Doña Cecilia.

  1. United States Department of State, Country report on human rights practices for 2015 - Panama 

  2. ¿Están muriendo reos enfermos?” in El Siglo, 15 November 2016 (Spanish) 

Many organizations denounce the prison conditions for inmates at Punta Coco, especially the use of extreme solitary confinement.

The Punta Coco naval base was built in 2014 on the Pearl Islands. It was intended to be a strategic surveillance base for the Gulf of Panama in its fight against gangs and drug trafficking. The government quickly decided to turn it into a prison for solitary confinement. The project was stopped midway in April 2015. Nevertheless, some people were transferred and incarcerated there in 2015 and 20161.

Punta Coco is a maximum-security prison. It is operated by the Ministry of Public Security and not by the Ministry of Government and Justice, which is usually in charge of prisons. It is officially designated to hold alleged criminals before they are sent to Panama City. These are usually high-level leaders involved in organized crime. Six men were transferred there in 2015. They were taken overland to Punta Coco without warning and no notification was given to their families or their lawyers2.

The Ombudsman’s Office is the organization responsible for ensuring that human rights are respected in Panama. In July 2015, the Ombudsman called for the closure of the prison and the transfer of inmates.

Inmates at Punta Coco are subjected to extreme solitary confinement. It is very difficult for families, friends, and lawyers to travel to and to get into the prison. Inmates have no means of communication. They are permanently confined in their cells. They are periodically allowed out for 40 minutes to do their laundry. They can only go out one at a time and can never communicate with each other. The heat in the cells is stifling due to poor ventilation. Mosquitoes are everywhere. The lack of potable water causes health problems. There are no medical services in the prison. Prisoners do not have access to legal counsel because it is very difficult for their lawyers to get to Punta Coco.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded on 20 August 2015, that the treatment was inhuman and degrading. The Special Rapporteur pointed out that solitary confinement should only be used as a last resort, in very exceptional situations.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights advocated on behalf of the six men held at Punta Coco on 25 February 2016. It acknowledged that the conditions are inhuman and degrading and called for the prisoners to be transferred.

The Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture will be visiting Panama in 2017. The United Nations Committee against Torture will also be conducting a review in July 2017.

  1. Punta Coco : the Panamanian Alcatraz Penitentiary” in Panama Today, 26 September 2016 

  2. The ‘Guantanamo Bay of Panama’ Prison Raises Human Rights Concerns” in Insight Crime, 28 October 2015