Press Release

The IACHR Welcomes Panama’s Efforts to Get Rid of Corruption in the Prison System

September 1, 2016

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Washington, D.C.- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the efforts undertaken by the Panamanian State to combat corrupt acts in the penitentiary system, by dismantling a corruption network.

According to information in the public domain, on August 10, 2016, “Operación Reclusión” was carried out with a view to dismantling a corruption network in Panamanian penitentiaries and led to the arrest of 13 people allegedly involved. The detained include four authorities of the persons currently employed by the penitentiary system, three former employees, and four other people. In addition, two persons currently deprived of their liberty are under investigation in connection with this case. This operation was conducted jointly by the Deputy Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía Auxiliar de la República), the Public Prosecution Service (Ministerio Público), the Office of the Inspector General of the Penitentiary System, the Judicial Investigation Directorate (DIJ), and the National Police.

In accordance with official information, these arrests are the result of the internal investigation of the Office of the Director General of the Penitentiary System, begun in 2015 with the presentation of the complaint against the former director of the penitentiary system Gabriel Pinzón, and of investigations into subsequent complaints filed by the Public Prosecution Service. According to the Public Prosecution Service, the aforementioned investigation led to the detection of a network that has operated for years in the prison system involving the alteration, in exchange for money, of sentences handed down by the courts, the forging of release documents, and manipulation of lists containing commutation of sentences and transfers of inmates.

Corruption in prisons exacerbates real inequalities between inmates by rendering the weakest more vulnerable and triggering an imbalance in the distribution of the few resources available for prisons. In addition, corruption poses an obstacle to achievement of the essential purposes of prison sentences. That being so, the IACHR appreciates the efforts undertaken by the Panamanian State to combat corrupt acts in prisons and calls upon the State to ensure that those responsible are tried and punished in accordance with the gravity of their deeds. The Inter-American Commission encourages the State to continue its efforts to eradicate corruption in the prison system.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 125/16