The lack of a plan for Latin American Prisons will soon become too far to overcome. Answers exist.

Infrastructure

The few programs that exist in prisons lack a scientific basis, because there is no team of specialists to make a scientific and comprehensive diagnosis of criminal behavior

From correctional facilities to colleges of crime
We have to work on public policies in the long term, and not government policies. I make the call to carry out this prison census to collect data”. Edward Leblanc,
From correctional facilities to colleges of crime
I propose moving the women’s prison to La Joya. And sell the building that is on the road to the airport. With the money from that sale, he would build a building for their jail.” Carlos Clement
From correctional facilities to colleges of crime
The system needs more budget. If we were able to have a self-management model, our prisons would work better, or we could have more money to cover expenses”. Nadia Franco Bazan,
From correctional facilities to colleges of crime
Invest more in the process involved in the prison system, and improve the working conditions of professionals, from the director to the custodians”. Gilberto Toro,
From correctional facilities to colleges of crime
Preventive practices are aimed at addressing the social causes of crime, and therefore at deactivating potentially criminal actions. Enoch Adames,

The original spirit by which the prisons were established was focused on their functioning as correction centers for those who had broken the law. Prison systems, along the way, lost their compass. Prisons have become places of punishment, where inmates are locked up. Far from fulfilling its objectives, the system we have fosters corruption, violence and crime in the streets and in the prisons themselves.

The absence and weakness of rehabilitation and social reintegration programs are not only an open affront to the Political Constitution of the Republic, by not adhering to the principles that should drive the Panamanian prison system; judges, in not a few cases, violate the law. They end up accentuating, in addition, the criminal behavior of the inmates who come to specialize in crime. This is how a criminologist and a sociologist consulted by La Estrella de Panamá have agreed.

Law 55, which organizes the National Penitentiary System, in its article 6 establishes the rehabilitation of prisoners based on adequate penitentiary treatment. It contemplates work, education, training and the practice of moral values, so that the human being who entered the system leaves with the capabilities to live in society.

lack of opportunities

Educational, vocational and sentence commutation programs for inmates do not work efficiently and not precisely because of the motivation of those affected. Inmates who meet the requirements to access the programs face difficulties due to the lack of opportunities, the delays in the procedures and the corruption of the system.

According to the 2021 management report, from the then Minister of Government. Janaina Tewaney, now in charge of the Foreign Relations portfolio, 21% of the inmates participate in labor, productive and specialized care programs. Another 16% is inserted in the school system, according to figures provided by the Ministry of Education.

The few programs that exist in prisons lack a scientific basis, because there is no team of specialists to make a scientific and comprehensive diagnosis of criminal behavior, which can be affected by multiple factors: psychological, physical and biological, and disorders biochemical and hormonal, explained criminologist and evangelical pastor Marco Aurelio Álvarez.

From his experience working on the streets and in the ghettos of the city, Álvarez knows first-hand the environment in which criminals from the marginalized neighborhoods of Panama City are born and survive.

“That socioeconomic condition (the majority comes from families that have lived off crime for generations), the patterns of beliefs and values ​​in which the detainee grew up must be taken into account in the rehabilitation process. Since these factors are not considered, when leaving the prison the inmates not only reoffend, but also end up specialized in crime,” said Álvarez.

no criminal classification

Added to the difficulties in accessing rehabilitation programs is the lack of a criminal classification, which contributes to increasing the risk of criminal recidivism. In Panama, in the same cell, there are from first-timers for minor crimes, to serial criminals -psychopaths and sociopaths-, in an open violation of the minimum rules of the United Nations for the treatment of inmates, which establishes that detainees must be separated according to the nature of the crime committed.

Inexperienced inmates, when placed with repeat offenders, suffer abuse and come out in worse conditions than those who entered the prisons.

“They are not a prison, they are a university of crime, where inmates enter with a bachelor’s degree in marijuana and leave with a doctorate in cocaine.” Famous expression of Johnny Depp, an American actor, film producer and musician who was nominated three times for an Oscar and winner of a Golden Globe.

From experience, Álvarez considers that out of every 10 criminals who serve sentences, six are repeat offenders. The remaining four pay with their lives for the crime committed (executions for revenge). In other words, 60% of the inmates reoffend and return to prison. On the other hand, criminal recidivism translates into citizen insecurity and an increase in criminal activity.

He gave as an example, in addition to the structural conditions to which more than 21,000 inmates are subjected, that the imposition of the criminal mark on a police record for a period of 10 years prevents them from getting a decent job. That means twice the penalty imposed by the Penal Code.

No competition or values

Enoch Adames, a sociologist and academic at the University of Panama, agreed with the criminologist.

Adames explained that rehabilitation and reintegration involves an education related to skills and values. But if there is no minimum segregation in penal centers, by age and type of crime, there will be no possibility of focusing the educational processes so that they are successful.

This sociologist maintained that crime and punishment not only have legal expressions, insofar as they qualify and penalize. In addition, they are part of the social manifestations with which society lives every day.

They influence to the extent that they are inscribed in the sensibilities of a society and are part of a culture, whose institutional practices model the ways of perceiving the phenomenon of confinement and loneliness to pay the penalty .

Hence, the way in which society conceives crime and the punishment devices that are reflected, to a large extent, in the Panamanian penal system model.

“The way crime and punishment are treated tells what kind of society ours is. One that loads the institutional weight to those who do not have power, and recharges itself with proceduralist formalisms, when it comes to those who have power,” Adames stressed.

This academic observed, at the same time, that crime and punishment, as long as they occur and pass as multidimensional events, always internalize and shape conceptions and emotions, and also structure practices.

“To the extent that the action is merely punitive, and does not offer rehabilitation alternatives, it deepens the deviation and reinforces potentially criminal actions,” Adames concluded.

recommendations

The transformation of the Panamanian penitentiary system to remodel the deteriorated infrastructures, and improve the conditions of the officials, requires millions of investments so that they can fulfill these purposes.

It is also a priority to establish long-term public policies, which transcend governments, and work on crime prevention in children and young people.

Eduardo Leblanc, Ombudsman, recommends prevention in childhood and youth to prevent them from falling into the tentacles of the mafia, drug trafficking and criminality.

The ombudsman promotes a prison census, to collect data that will make it possible to dictate long-term public policies. “It is necessary to change the form of education, to reach neighborhoods where there are cauldrons of imprisoned people, to work preventively,” Leblanc considered to reduce crime and overcrowding.

Nadia Noemí Franco Bazán, professor of criminal law at the University of Panama, with a postgraduate degree in criminological studies and a prison system researcher, proposed creating self-management models that generate income and make it possible to face the expenses that more than two tens of thousands of inmates represent.

“It is necessary to educate Panamanians so that they understand how the system works, how hard it is to have a person imprisoned for so many years,” he said.

Gilberto Toro, an expert in work with prisoners, recalled that there is a belief that prisoners are “criminals”; who do not deserve adequate conditions, as part of the punishment for the crime committed. However, society does not react until a family member or close friend experiences what it is like to be in prison.

Toro recommended building a new prison model and remodeling infrastructure; better train officials, from the director to the custodians.

Another recommendation was made by the architect Carlos Clément. Based on his experience designing prisons in several Latin American countries, as well as important buildings in Panama City, he suggested that the government should invest at least $20 million in each penitentiary to solve the current overcrowding.

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