Renovating, reinventing: Detainees in Panama prisons use architecture to build better lives

The ICRC has been working towards making conditions for detainees more humane since 1870. We provide assistance in areas of armed conflict and other situations of violence to ensure that all detainees, regardless of the reason for, or category of, their detention, are treated humanely and provided with decent living conditions.

Poor prison conditions are a worldwide problem.

In Panama's La Joya and La Joyita prisons, the ICRC is working with the prison authorities and detainees to improve living conditions. The prison infrastructure maintenance programme is being run jointly by the ICRC and the General Directorate of the Prisons System and helps detainees who are preparing to re-enter society.

The initiative, which is led by the national institute for vocational training (INADEH), trains detainees in skilled trades and ensures they receive the best possible training.

INADEH facilitators run practical training sessions for detainees to evaluate what they have learnt and to put it into practice. They work together to refurbish the areas designated as classrooms and workshops, where their continued training in welding, carpentry, plumbing and electrical engineering will take place.

This innovative and practical programme has shown that small changes to a building can create more humane conditions. And the conditions are more humane not only because they comply with standards, but also because the detainees themselves take part in the renovations; they are a part of the process.

However, the programme goes far beyond renovating buildings; it gives detainees the opportunity to learn or perfect a trade during their time in prison, which is of practical use when they are released and increases their chances of successfully reintegrating into society.

This pilot programme is a win-win for everyone. Thanks to the practical training provided by INADEH, the experience and technical advice provided by the ICRC, the prisons' leadership in terms of managing the process, and the efforts of the detainees themselves, it has been possible to improve living conditions.

By using architecture and engineering, we can help people successfully reintegrate into society.