Temas Especiales

20 de Apr de 2021


Escapees to be shot on sight

PANAMA. Prison breaks have been on the rise for the past few years, but inmates will now have to think twice before escaping prison. J...

PANAMA. Prison breaks have been on the rise for the past few years, but inmates will now have to think twice before escaping prison. Jose Raul Molino, Minister of Government and Justice, ordered prison custodians and police officers to shoot any prisoner who tries to escape.

The Minister toured the La Joya and La Joyita prison complexes on Thursday alongside the National Police director, Gustavo Perez.

His visit fared well until his unusual order: “I have given instructions to shoot anyone who tries to escape. As simple as that, to shoot at any attempt of escaping,” he said. Mulino considered it “absurd” that guards were afraid to shoot.

The idea didn't sit well with everyone. Rosniel Ortiz, a criminal lawyer, said it “would be crazy” to follow this order because the law says that only after two warnings can officers shoot. Guards must first give a warning by yelling “Stop!”, followed by a warning air shot and then only if his or others’ lives is in danger, can he proceed to shoot. Ortiz added that no one is above the law, and that established by the law has to be respected.

Javier Justiniani, head of the Support for Detainees Foundation, said he congratulates the Minister for coming to see the state of the prisons for himself but said the goodwill of the visit was tarnished by his declarations. He added that these new orders are “unfortunate and reckless coming from a man who has experienced repression.”

“It is not the right thing to do,” he said.

According to the law, the measure taken by Mulino are justified only when the escaped inmate takes third parties as hostages, but guards can never shoot against an unarmed detainee.

Justiniani said overlooking this article could leave police officers and custodians facing up to 30 years in prison. “They need to understand that if they follow those orders they are breaking the law,” he said.

Ironically, while giving the shoot on sight order, Mulino also expressed sympathy for the prisoners during his visit. Mulino said: “people here who are human beings regardless of their criminal activities.”

Mulino was appalled at the state of the jailing system, wryly adding that the only reason there hadn’t been more escapees is probably out of the prisoners’ good will.

“I knew I was not visiting a private club but not hell's gate either. Its going to cost us the world to fix this.” Mulino said, promising modifications to prison infrastructures.

Added to the prison breaks and poor infrastructure problems, the Panamanian jailing system also suffers from overcrowding. After the United States, Panama has the unfortunate honor of being the country with the highest per capita prison population. This is due to the nature of our country’s judicial system, which is inquisitorial, meaning a person goes to jail while the investigation of the crime is being completed, instead of accusatorial, as most other countries, where the suspect is jailed only after being found guilty.

The head of the Supreme Court, Harley Mitchell, has been working towards faster and more efficient trial processes to fight against prison overcrowding. Offices have been opened by the Judicial Organ and the Public Ministry to carry out the judicial processes of those detained in La Joya and La Joyita.

Mitchell has previously described the state of the jailing system in Panama as having “subhuman conditions”, and a “blatant attack on prisoners’ human rights.”