Contributor(s)Prison Insider

Daily life

Prison medical services are inadequate. Sick prisoners receive minimal care. Limited access to healthcare was the most frequent subject of complaints received by the Ombudsman’s Office, the official human rights organization in Panama. According to the 2015 U.S. State Department report, 146 complaints were filed between January and September 2015.

The most common illnesses are hypertension, diabetes, dermatitis, HIV/AIDS, and respiratory disorders. Inmate’s cells do not have drinking water and are poorly ventilated. The prisons are not equipped to deal with serious medical cases. The healthcare staff consists of 73 employees for all 24 prison facilities. There are no ambulances. Prisoners do not receive medical assistance while being transported to the hospital.

The Panamanian Committee for the Defence of Citizens (COPADEDEC) denounced the high number of deaths due to lack of care in a November 2016 press release1.

COPADEDEC legal counsel Alexis Sinclair presented the case of Marco Figueroa who has been incarcerated for seven years in Nueva Esperanza. He has advanced-stage cancer and receives no care. Both public and private doctors have recommended that he immediately be transferred to a hospital. The former General Director of Prison Services, Chan Mario Durán, was aware that Marco Figueroa had cancer, but he refused to have Figueroa sent to hospital on the grounds that “Figueroa’s life was not in danger”.

On August 2, 2016, a group of prisoners’ families and friends demonstrated in front of the Supreme Court demanding the release of their loved ones behind bars.

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

Prison system reform began in 2010, and is supported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Union. The partnership led to a book donation campaign called “Donate a book to jail”. 8,000 books have been received. Las Tablas, La Joyita and La Joya prisons now have their own libraries. Computer rooms were also set up in Las Tablas, Bocas del Toro, and La Chorrera prisons with the support of the U.N. Prisoners maintain these installations.

Article 28 of the Constitution states that the prison system is based, in part, on the principle of reintegration. It is intended to provide vocational training for prisoners in order to better reintegrate them into the community.

Prisoners who work or study while incarcerated are entitled to a reduced sentence. The system works on a “two for one” basis: two days of work or study translates into a one-day sentence reduction. However, it is not applied correctly due to the difficulties related with keeping track of the prisoners’ activities1. There is a system being put in place to record the inmates’ activities that should help correct this issue.