PANAMA CITY – Panama began on Tuesday its first prison census, an unprecedented measure whereby the country is seeking to gather data on the more than 16,000 inmates housed in the penitentiary system to develop better policies for reinserting them into society once they have served their time.
“The basic aim of the census is to obtain statistical information that will allow us to identify the main socio-demographic and criminal characteristics of adult society, as well as the elements related to life behind bars,” Government Minister Maria Luisa Romero said.
The census, which is being carried out with funding from the European Union and technical assistance from the Inter-American Development Bank, will cover the country’s entire incarcerated population and is expected to be completed by yearend.
The inmates will undergo face-to-face interviews with personnel from the Government and Security Ministries, as well as from the General Comptroller’s Office, and they will have to respond to a 125-question survey about their family environment, work history, educational level and health status, among other things.
Romero emphasized that this is “something historic” and “only with trustworthy and useful information can we design the public policies that our country needs.”
The government minister had announced last year that the prison census would be undertaken.
The project was launched on Tuesday in the Nueva Joya prison in Pacora district, 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Panama City, one of the Latin America’s largest such facilities.
“We cannot rehabilitate if we don’t know what programs ... our prison population needs,” said Romero at an official ceremony held in Nueva Joya.
The Panamanian prison system has been criticized by assorted international entities for the poor state of its facilities and the high levels of preventive detention and overcrowding, amounting to 115 percent of specified capacity, according to government figures.
Sixty percent of the 16,000 prisoners are housed in two prisons in the capital – Nueva Joya and Joyita – according to the government.