Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to extensive gang-related violence, and inability of the government to control criminal activity in the prisons. Prisons were also subject to overcrowding, insufficient access to food and water, violence, and abuses by prison officials.
Physical Conditions: Prisoners suffered from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and medical care, and, in some prisons, lack of adequate ventilation and lighting. The country had 25 prisons, one of them exclusively for women, and four preventive detention centers. As of September the total prison population was 15,914 in a system with a designed capacity of 8,130. As of September 21, there had been 40 deaths in prisons--25 due to violence and 15 due to natural causes. In 2014 and 2015, the government created four detention centers, located in three military installations and one police installation, to hold individuals undergoing judicial proceedings. As of September there were 66 individuals in these centers. In 2014 the National Human Rights Commissioner inspected the conditions at these installations and recommended they not become permanent prisons.
In August 2014 the food budget per day per prisoner increased from nine to 30 lempiras ($0.41 to $1.50) following complaints from members of congress that some local prisons were relying on charities to feed prisoners due to lack of government funding. 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. In addition to human rights training (see 1.d.), the National Penal Institute (INP) provided management, communications, and customer service training to 210 members of the staff.
Prisoners had ready access to weapons and other contraband, inmates attacked other inmates with impunity, escapes were frequent, and inmates and their associates outside prison threatened prison officials and their families. These conditions contributed to an unstable and dangerous environment in the penitentiary system. The media reported multiple prison riots and violent confrontations between gang members throughout the year. CONADEH reported at least four deaths during riots. 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 response to the violence, the INP transferred some high-security prisoners elsewhere. Authorities installed additional equipment to block cell-phone calls. Police and military units conducted raids for weapons, drugs, and other prohibited items.
In addition to isolation and threats, there were credible reports from human rights organizations that prison officials used excessive force against prisoners, including beatings, in addition to isolation and threats.
Due to charges of widespread corruption and incompetence, in June 2014, the government replaced the Institute of the Child and Family with the Directorate of Childhood and Family (DINAF), under the Ministry of Social Development. An executive decree, made DINAF responsible for the administration of the five juvenile detention centers. During the year DINAF attempted to contract the management of these centers to a local NGO but encountered violent reactions in the four centers characterized as “high-security” facilities. Gang members among the general populations evicted their staff and took control of the facilities--no staff or law enforcement were present inside for months. At least six killings were committed among the juveniles, including five at the Renaciendo center for teenage boys outside Tegucigalpa. In January clashes between rival gangs in the Renaciendo center resulted in two homicides. Authorities arrested three minors for the homicides.
The government responded with two executive decrees declaring a national emergency in the juvenile detention centers and created an Emergency Intervention Commission of state agencies, presided over by the Secretariat of Development and Social Inclusion and including DINAF, the military, and the penitentiary police, to assume control of the centers. In August police imposed a measure of control over Renaciendo, the final and most problematic of these centers. Raids by security forces in the centers found cell phones, arms, and drugs. The government approved the allocation of 48 million lempiras ($2.18 million) for the Emergency Intervention Commission. As of October 14, there were 359 minors in five juvenile detention centers, despite the existence of a legal framework of alternative sentencing outside the juvenile detention system.
Authorities generally held female prisoners in a separate facility under conditions similar to those of male prisoners. Some women were housed in separate areas of men’s prisons. Children up to the age of three could stay with their mothers in prison. Authorities often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners.
Authorities held persons with mental illnesses or disabilities, as well as those with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, together with the general prison population. In 2014 the National Penitentiary in Tamara reported their facility was the only prison with an antiretroviral treatment program. 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 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 sought alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders to alleviate overcrowding. They also addressed the status and circumstances of confinement of juvenile offenders, as well as pretrial detention and bail. Recordkeeping procedures intended to assure prisoners did not serve beyond the maximum sentence for the charged offense were inadequate and resulted in some prisoners serving a longer time in prison than their sentences specified.
Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of inhuman conditions directly to the director of the prison in which they were incarcerated, who then 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, the Public Ministry Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, and the 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. CONADEH reported 20 complaints of torture and mistreatment 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.
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 president issued an executive directive in March approving regulations for implementation of the 2012 National Penal System Law. This included the official creation of the INP as a decentralized agency of the Secretariat for Human Rights, and the establishment of the Human Rights Protection Unit of the INP (UPDDHH for its initials in Spanish) and a national penal policy. Between April and June, the UPDDHH conducted human rights training for 145 prison staff and 110 prisoners.
In February a new prison for 2,000 prisoners opened in the central region with a medical clinic, sports and educational areas, two drinking wells, and two electrical plants. A prison for 1,250 prisoners in San Pedro Sula was 80 percent completed as of September. Ground was broken in April for two additional prisons in El Paraiso Department. The government also allocated 22.5 million lempiras ($1.02 million) from its security tax to remodel existing prisons, revised regulations governing the penitentiary system, and opened nonprofit commissaries for prisoners. The ICRC continued programs to improve water and electrical systems at some prisons. Beginning in January the penal authorities contracted doctors and nurses to staff some prison infirmaries and signed an agreement with the Ministry of Health to provide doctors from regional health centers to visit prisons two or three times per week. All 24 penitentiaries had access to medical staff.