With the support of the European Union (EU) and the technical assistance of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the government of Panama is conducting the first census of jails in the country.
The action is taken as a response to overcrowding, deteriorated hygienic conditions and the scarcity of resources in Panama jails. The census will be conducted to 16,000 inmates who will have to answer the questionnaires provided by the staff of the Ministries of Government and Security and the Comptroller General’s Office.
The Minister of Government, María Luisa Navarro, considered this governmental initiative as an unpublished and historical fact whose objective "is to obtain statistical information that help us to identify the main socio-demographic and criminal characteristics of the adult society, as well as the aspects related to life in prison," she told EFE news agency.
The survey that is being applied since last Tuesday consists of 125 questions that cover the prisoner's personal life, educational level, living conditions of the family nucleus and their health condition.
The project is designed to be applied in the 15 jails in Panama during the next six months, time set for its completion. The Minister of Government said that this type of government programs are fundamental for the country due to the quantity and quality of data that will be collected and, especially, for the clarity they provide for designing public policies appropriate to the rehabilitation and social insertion of inmates. "Only with reliable and useful information we can design the public policies needed in our country."
The Nueva Jota prison, located 40 kilometers from the Panamanian capital, was the prison selected to start the census because of its physical characteristics and the number of prisoners inside. According to official statistics, 9600 out of the 16,000 prisoners in Panama are confined between Joya and Joyita.
Both jails have been strongly criticized in Panama and abroad. In 2011, the Ombudsman’s Office issued a report entitled "A look at the Panamanian prison system". The document exposed, since then, the proliferation of diseases, poor hygienic conditions and deficiencies in the infrastructure.
Another relevant fact of the problem is the statement released by the Ombudsman of Spain in 2013, in which he referred to the little guarantee that the inmates had to access health care.
According to the prison-insider.com portal, in May 2015, the Government of Panama recognized that the construction of new jails would not solve the problem given the shortage of staff specialized in prison issues, however, it justified the remodeling of the existing infrastructures in favor of the welfare of prisoners.