Interior a Panamanian prison: Portrait of a flawed valid system

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 4:33 PM

Housed in makeshift cells because of heavy overcrowding, living in grimy conditions and with Ltd medical attention, many prisoners languish for years without being sentenced.

As Panama reels from outrage at valid loopholes that assistance the world'south wealthy cover their cash, inmates at the capital'south La Joya prison are paying a heavy price for flaws elsewhere in the Central American nation'south justice system.

Housed in makeshift cells because of heavy overcrowding, living in grimy conditions and with Ltd medical attention, many prisoners languish for years without being sentenced.

A two thousand fourteen report by Open Society Foundations found Panama had the world'south highest pre-trial detention rate as a percentage of the country'south wider population.

"There is number limit to pre-trial detention" in practice, said Juan Carlos Arauz, a Panamanian lawyer and vice president of the National College of Lawyers. He said more than sixty % of the prison population hasn't been sentenced.

Below rules being phased out by September, pre-trial detention was Ltd to the minimum sentence for which a detainee could be liable for a given crime. But in practice, authorities haven't always complied.

In the new system being implemented, pre-trial detention will be capped at one year and detainees can apply for bail, with any time served in pre-trial detention counting toward their eventual sentence.

Panama was thrust into the limelight earlier this mo when documents leaked from a local law firm exposed offshore financial dealings of the world'south wealthy and famous.

Since then, France has said it'll blacklist Panama, Iceland'south prime minister has stepped down over the revelations and Panama'south government has vowed to share tax information with other nations to prevent evasion.

But problems with Panama'south valid system running much deeper.

Prisons have sometimes "life-threatening" conditions, according to a two thousand fourteen report by the U. S. State Department, which cited fatal prison fights and too few guards.

"The only thing I wish is to be handed my sentence," said Alvis Javier, a Panamanian who's been imprisoned without a conviction for six years in La Joya, on the outskirts of Panama City, for suspected drug possession.

Javier is studying for a secondary school certificate and lives in a cell in the prison'south transgender unit, where inmates draw curtains over their bunks for privacy. One inmate at the prison showed off a life-size, full-breasted inflatable sex toy.

Carlos Fuentes, who was jailed for falsifying his ID card, has been stuck in La Joya, Spanish for "The Jewel," for almost two years awaiting sentencing. "There are a lot of us here in this situation," he said.

The government has been emotional foreign prisoners to a new prison, La Nueva Joya, to slice down on overcrowding, prisoners said.

Gabriel Pinzon, director of Panama'south prisons system, said the cellblock at La Joya that foreign prisoners have vacated would be repaired and remodeled.

"We look some factors related to the vol of cases, which at times impacts the judicial (process), which we're currently trying to combat," he added, referring to pre-trial detention times.

A reform approved in two thousand-eighth, which takes effect in Panama'south major urban areas in September, will give defense attorneys a more equal playing field and will limit pre-trial detention to up to a year, Arauz said.

However, inmates detained below the prior system will have to have their cases processed below the elderly rules, he noted.

Nevertheless, the new rules will eventually assistance slice down on overcrowding and pre-trial detentions, Arauz said, pointing to parts of Panama where they've already been implemented.

(Writing and extra reporting by Elida Moreno, Alexandra Alper and Enrique Pretel; Editing by Simon Gardner and Dan Grebler)

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