Prison conditions did not meet international standards and were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, insufficient access to food and water, violence, abuses by prison officials, and the influence of organized crime in prisons.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a significant risk to prisoner welfare. The country had 24 prisons, 23 of them for men, and three preventive detention centers. As of September the total prison population was 14,531 in a system with a designed capacity of 8,130. There were 627 women in prison. As of September there were 41 deaths in prisons – 23 due to violence and 18 due to natural causes. The government began using parts of one military installation and one police installation as detention centers. The national human rights commissioner inspected the conditions at these installations and recommended they not become permanent prisons.
Authorities generally held female prisoners in a separate facility under conditions similar to those of male prisoners but held some in separate areas of men’s prisons. Children up to the age of three could stay with their mothers in prison.
Due to charges of widespread corruption and incompetence, the government replaced the Institute of the Child and Family with the Directorate of Childhood and Family (DINAF), under the Ministry of Social Development. As of September DINAF was considering transferring management of four juvenile detention centers to NGOs or third parties supervised by DINAF. In July the national security and defense council approved the allocation of 49.35 million lempiras ($2.47 million) for improvement of juvenile detention centers. At the request of DINAF, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) collected statistics on the number of minors in juvenile detention centers, which dropped to 328 as of September, from 356 in 2013. Authorities presumed the drop was due to previously inflated statistics. Judges tended to place minors in the centers due to lack of alternative measures outside the juvenile detention system.
Authorities often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners.
Prisoners suffered from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and medical care, and, in some prisons, lack of adequate ventilation and lighting. Due to budget cuts, authorities provided prisons 11 lempiras (55 cents) per prisoner per day for food. In April some national congress members protested that some local prisons had been relying on charities to feed prisoners due to lack of government funding. As of August the budget increased from nine to 39 lempiras ($0.45 to $1.95) per day per prisoner. In most prisons access to potable water was limited to prisoners who purchased bottled water or had water filters in their cells.
Due to overcrowding and lack of adequate training of prison staff, prisoners were subject to various abuses, including rape by other inmates. Prisons lacked trained personnel to safeguard the psychological and physical wellbeing of inmates, and some prisons lacked sufficient security personnel. The media reported multiple prison riots and violent confrontations between gang members throughout the year, including a May confrontation between rival gangs in which five minors were killed, and an August killing of four indigenous men in pretrial detention by a convicted murderer reportedly on the orders of organized crime leaders.
The ready access of prisoners to weapons and other contraband, impunity for inmates who attacked other inmates, inmate escapes, and threats by inmates and their associates outside prison against prison officials and their families contributed to an unstable and dangerous environment in the penitentiary system. Authorities held prisoners from rival gangs in separate facilities or in separate areas of the same prison to reduce gang violence. In some facilities prisoners themselves controlled their own areas, including the provision of cell space, food, and services, while prison staff provided security outside the perimeter of each living unit and facility.
In July seven prisoners escaped from the national penitentiary at Tamara, which prompted the government to change directors of the national penitentiary institute. In August police and military conducted a raid at Tamara and confiscated televisions, appliances, construction materials, drugs, arms, and pets. Police and military officers conducted similar raids at other prisons. The government appointed new wardens at each of the country’s 24 prisons. In September the government began training 300 reserve soldiers for prison security duties. The national interinstitutional security force provided security at the country’s largest prisons.
There were credible reports from human rights organizations that prison officials used excessive force against prisoners, including beatings, in addition to isolation and threats. The national human rights commissioner reported 115 complaints of torture and maltreatment in detention centers as of September. NGOs reported some prisoners were reluctant to file official complaints regarding their treatment due to lack of confidence in the authorities and lack of an effective system to protect witnesses.
Authorities held prisoners with mental disabilities with the general prison population. They also held persons with mental illnesses, as well as those with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, with the general prison population. Authorities at the National Penitentiary in Tamara reported their facility was the only prison with an antiretroviral treatment program, but it did not have necessary materials to test for or diagnose HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, or diabetes. In addition the surgical unit lacked anesthesia, surgical gloves, and needles.
Administration: The National Penitentiary Institute, an autonomous institution linked to the Secretariat of State for Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization, managed the country’s prisons. The institute was led by a directive committee composed of the minister of human rights, justice, governance and decentralization; the minister of security; an NGO representative; and a representative of the national municipal association. Public defenders and judges assisted in seeking alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders to alleviate overcrowding; addressing the status and circumstances of confinement of juvenile offenders; and improving pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures to ensure that prisoners did not serve beyond the maximum sentence for the charged offense. The legal department of every prison also handled recordkeeping, but recordkeeping procedures were inadequate and resulted in some prisoners serving time in prison longer than their sentences.
Prisoners could transmit concerns directly to the director of the prison in which they were incarcerated, who transferred the complaints to the director of the National Penitentiary Institute. Prisoners also could file complaints with the human rights protection unit of the National Penitentiary Institute, Public Ministry Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, and Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization. The national human rights commissioner also received complaints and conducted investigations. NGO and official investigation results were available to the public.
Authorities generally permitted inmates to have access to visitors, including in some cases women in prostitution, and religious services of their choice. They also permitted inmates to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of inhuman conditions. The director of prisons held meetings with human rights organizations.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent local and international human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Improvements: The government continued a major prison reform program begun in 2010 involving the construction of new facilities to reduce overcrowding, separating the most dangerous prisoners from nonviolent offenders, and promoting rehabilitation. To reduce overcrowding the government constructed a “model” penitentiary for 500 prisoners in the northwest region and in May began building a new prison for 2,000 prisoners in the central region. The government also allocated 25.2 million lempiras ($1.26 million) to the remodeling of existing prisons and revised regulations governing the penitentiary system. The ICRC continued programs to improve water and electrical systems at some prisons.