Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening because of pervasive gang-related violence and the government’s failure to control criminal activity within the prisons. Prisoners suffered from overcrowding, insufficient access to food and water, violence, and abuse by prison officials.
Following a 2014 fire in the Comayagua prison that killed 361 inmates, the National Congress approved the National Prison System Act in 2015, which modified the organization of prisons and mandated the professionalization of police charged with prison administration. In February the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported that the country’s prisons still suffered from many of the same problems that contributed to the 2014 Comayagua tragedy. These problems included the delegation of internal controls to prisoners themselves and a corresponding lack of responsible management by prison authorities; overcrowding and deplorable incarceration conditions; and a failure to segregate men and women fully in most prisons.
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 Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that as of August the total prison population was 17,253 in 27 prisons, an 8 percent increase over September 2015. According to the ministry, the system had designed capacity for approximately 10,600 inmates.
The National Prison Institute (INP) reported that as of August 12, 16 inmates had died in prison, 14 from natural causes and two from suicide. Seven inmates were killed outside prison while receiving medical care or on conditional home release. In contrast, CONAPREV reported that 19 prisoners died in altercations between inmates, three committed suicide, and four died from illness.
As of August the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that the country’s four pretrial detention centers held 75 individuals. Three of these centers were on military installations, and the other was located on the installations of the HNP’s Special Operations Command (known as COBRAS). The government used pretrial detention centers to hold high-profile suspects and those in need of additional security. The military provided some support services to the three detention centers located on military bases; however, the military neither administered them nor provided guards for the facilities. Instead, the INP oversaw them, as it did other prisons.
Due to overcrowding and lack of adequate training for prison staff, prisoners were subjected to serious 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.
Many prisoners had 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, dangerous environment in the penitentiary system. Media reported multiple prison riots and violent confrontations between gang members in prisons throughout the year. Inmates killed several prison guards, including the deputy director of the San Pedro Sula prison, either inside prison facilities or by giving orders that criminal associates on the outside carried out on their behalf.
There were credible reports from human rights organizations that, in addition to subjecting prisoners to isolation and threats, prison officials used excessive force, such as beatings, to control prisoners.
The government held approximately one-half of its female prisoners at a facility for mothers with young children and pregnant women. Others were housed in separate areas of men’s prisons. In the San Pedro Sula prison, for instance, approximately 70 women resided in their own wing of the prison but shared communal space with upwards of 2,900 men. Children up to the age of three could stay with their mothers in prison. Authorities often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners.
Authorities did not segregate those with tuberculosis or other infectious diseases from the general prison population; there was only limited support for persons with mental illnesses or disabilities. CONAPREV reported that every prison had a functioning health clinic with at least one medical professional, except for the National Penitentiary in Francisco Morazan Department. Basic medical supplies and medicines, particularly antibiotics, were in short supply throughout the prison system. In most prisons only inmates who purchased bottled water or had water filters in their cells had access to potable water.
As of August the NGO Casa Alianza said juvenile detention staff reported there were 438 minors (394 boys and 44 girls) in five juvenile detention centers, segregated by gender. CONAPREV, however, reported that 542 boys resided in two juvenile detention centers and the COBRAS pretrial detention center as of August. According to the Directorate of Childhood and Family, 304 youths benefited from alternative sentencing outside the juvenile detention system between January 2015 and August (see section 6, Institutionalized Children).
Administration: The INP, an autonomous agency, managed the country’s adult prisons. The minister of human rights, justice, governance, and decentralization, together with the minister of security, an NGO representative, and a representative of the National Municipal Association formed a committee that supervised the INP. Public defenders and judges sought alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders as a means to alleviate prison overcrowding. Flawed recordkeeping procedures meant that some inmates served more time in prison than their sentences specified.
Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and could submit requests for the investigation of inhuman conditions directly to the director of the prison in which they were incarcerated. Directors could then transfer the complaints to the INP director. Prisoners also could file complaints with the INP’s Human Rights Protection Unit, the Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, and the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization. CONADEH also took complaints and conducted investigations. The results of investigations by NGOs and government officials were available to the public. CONAPREV reported there were three complaints of torture and mistreatment in detention centers as of September. NGOs reported that some prisoners were reluctant to file official complaints because they did not trust the authorities and there was no effective system for witness protection (also see section 1.c.).
The 2015 Law of Obligatory Labor for Prisoners stipulates that prison populations must engage in at least 400 hours of community service per individual. Officials had not implemented the law, however, with the exception of some minor farming initiatives at the Comayagua prison (also see section 7.b.).
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent local and international human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. Faith-based organizations such as the San Pedro Sula-based Roman Catholic Penitentiary Pastoral engaged in small-scale rehabilitation and vocational programs with willing inmates. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization made inspection visits to pretrial detention centers. The Human Rights Protection Unit of the INP made routine inspections of prison facilities and pretrial detention centers. CONAPREV made more than a dozen visits to juvenile detention facilities as of the end of August.
Improvements: In late 2015 the government launched an initiative to reduce prison overcrowding. After reviewing a list of cases recommended by prison administrators, at the end of 2015, the government released approximately 2,000 inmates who had completed their sentences or had already been in pretrial detention for longer than the maximum sentences for their alleged crimes. The government opened two new prisons, with a capacity of 2,300 prisoners.
The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that as of July, it had trained 1,100 prisoners in five prisons on human rights, a culture of peace, and their responsibilities under the 2015 National Prison System Act. The Human Rights Protection Unit trained an additional 600 prisoners on their human rights and national and international standards applicable to prisoners.
The INP trained 250 staff members on human rights for prisoners; nondiscrimination; the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; minimum standards for treatment of prisoners; national and international standards applicable to prisoners; and the appropriate use of lethal and nonlethal force.
Antiretroviral treatment programs expanded significantly throughout the prison system, and many HIV-positive patients who were not previously receiving treatment began a course of medication. Testing programs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and diabetes improved. On April 27, the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization and INP signed an agreement with the Ministry of Health to improve prison health services. As of August the government had hired 18 doctors to staff prisons. CONAPREV reported an increase in technical personnel available to assist prisoners, including public defenders, psychologists, and social workers.