PANAMA CITY – Overcrowded prisons are a problem of worldwide dimensions that affects Latin America with grave consequences that can even lead to death, Andres Casal, head of penitentiary infrastructure for the Americas of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said on Tuesday.
Casal, who is currently in Panama City conducting a workshop organized by the ICRC and the Panamanian government, said in an interview with EFE that overcrowded prisons are a problem not only found in Latin America, “you’re also going to find them in Europe, Africa and Asia.”
The consequences are an assault on “the dignity and above all the health of inmates, but also affect the staff working inside” the jails.
The ICRC is following this situation closely in some 80 countries around the world, and, Casal said, “whatever the country, overcrowding continues to be the biggest problem of these penitentiary systems.”
As for Central America, Casal said the problem is the same as in other countries, “neither better nor worse. It’s a world problem.”
And that goes for Panama as well: overcrowding and a lack of funding are realities here as well.
Some 60 percent of Panama’s 16,000 inmates are held at La Joya and La Joyita, a couple of jails described as the “entrance hall to hell.”
Last October, the Panamanian government said the country’s prisons were overcrowded by more than 390 percent, largely caused by court delays and the abusive use of preventive detentions.
The ICRC believes it necessary to help prison authorities deal with overcrowding and other challenges, as the Red Cross does does by providing them, and many institutions involved in detention activities, with the kind of support and technical assistance they need.
For Casal, the challenge that authorities must face is to “develop a management system adapted to their prisons and reflecting their cultural profiles, funding, competence and capabilities.