New law regulates prison system in Honduras

Monday, January 7, 2013

After a long delay the new National Penitentiary System Act (Ley del Sistema Penitenciario Nacional) of Honduras finally entered into force on 3 December 2012.

The law was approved by the National Congress in May 2012 but only recently entered into force as law with its publication in the national gazette. This Act addresses a systemic structural deficiency in the prison system in the country – the lack of a regulatory set of laws and public policies. The new law creates an autonomous institution, the National Penitentiary Institute, linked to the Ministry of Interior and Population (Secretaria de Estado en los Despachos del Interior y Población) and responsible for organizing, administering and putting into function the national penitentiary system.

It also establishes a specialized professional civil career of prison staff and guards, which will require that all personnel pass the practical and theoretical training offered by the future School for Formation of Prison Personnel (Unidad de Formación y Capacitación Penitenciaria).

The urgent need for a proper regulatory framework for the prison system, defined by public policy and specific legislation, has been a permanent demand from national human rights organisations as well as regional and international bodies. Following its visit to the country last year, the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of their Liberty of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights noted that Honduras lacked a genuine prison system and asked the State to adopt a prison statute in accordance with international standards and to create a prison institute run by professional and specialized personnel. Similar recommendations were issued by the Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture in its report back in 2009. The tragic fire in the Comayagua Prison in February 2012, which took the life of over 360 people, was a wake-up call for national authorities on the degrading and inhumane conditions for inmates and prompted the approval of the legislation, which had been discussed for over seven years.

The APT has been advocating for the prompt and effective implementation of the penitentiary reform. Last September, the APT and the National Preventive Mechanism of Honduras, (Comité Nacional contra la Tortura, Conaprev) convened an expert meeting to generate discussion and synergies among key stakeholders on measures to implement the Prisons Act. The workshop gathered representatives of civil society organizations, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Public Safety, Public Defender´s Office, Public Prosecutors Office and the UN. Elias Carranza, director of the United Nations Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (ILANUD), presented best practices and measures towards effective penitentiary reform taken in other countries of the region. His main example was the gradual reform in the Dominican Republic, which counts with a Center of Excellency on Prison Reform recognized by the United Nations.