We know that EcoSólidos is more than a recycling program, what is the added value? What makes it worthy of replication in other penitentiary centers in the country and the world?
Panama produces 4,800 tons of waste per day, each Panamanian generating about 1.2 kg / day. Only 5% of that garbage is recycled. In one year, EcoSólidos contributes with 9.25% of the total garbage that is recycled in Panama.
All these figures, numbers and statistics are based on personal stories: they are people working for a common goal. The added value is in the commitment of the people who work in the program. The success of EcoSólidos is that it never imposed on those deprived of liberty. There was no logical framework process or analysis of the problem to offer solutions, its creation process was totally organic – that sense of belonging is the success of the program. It is a catalyst that promotes recycling in Panama in an era in which our actions against the environment will have an impact for future generations.
What was your mission within the program as part of the ICRC?
One of the first commitments we acquired with the authorities was to work within a legal framework of the program, to give it an identity and recognition in order to guarantee its operation and regulate commutation of sentences in exchange for work.
The ICRC has also facilitated the rapprochement between individuals, companies and organizations to be involved in the program. Additionally, we have tried to be the ambassadors of EcoSólidos, giving it national and international visibility in media, forums and meetings between prison specialists. The ICRC has also invested in materials and supplies for the operation of EcoSólidos and specialized technical support with trained personnel that guide inmates and authorities on how to enhance the program.
What is the role of the inmates in this program?
People are the center of our humanitarian action. By the beginning of 2019, 625 inmates deprived of liberty in La Joyita worked in the different sections of EcoSólidos. This represents 15% of the total population of La Joyita and 23.5% of the population of the minimum-security sector, where the program is developed. It’s the program that the most jobs and opportunities for re-socialization in the Las Joyas Penitentiary Complex.
EcoSólidos allows the commutation of sentence. The staff works six days a week, eight hours a day with two 30-minute breaks, in a ratio of 2:1, that is, for every two days of work, one day sentence is reduced. This allows them to reduce five months and 22 days for each year of work, the maximum time authorized by the Panamanian prison regulations.
EcoSólidos also allows detainees to acquire unusual knowledge, but they will be in demand in the near future. Those people deprived of liberty can aspire to a specialized position in a labor field that aims to offer job opportunities for the coming years, because the recycling industry is evolving in Panama.
What has been done in other countries that is comparable to what is being done in Panama?
In the visits carried out by the ICRC to thousands of detention centers in a year, there are many experiences and initiatives that we find as an organization. However, EcoSólidos is unique. There are places with similar programs, but very far from the reality of EcoSólidos. Leadership, commitment and, to some extent, self-management make this program unique.
How did you perceive the prison before the program and how is it now?
Before starting the program, more garbage was generated in the prison than the brigade and the cleaning company could manage. La Joyita was saturated with debris of all kinds. The bad odors, the fermentation gases, the insects and rodents had turned the penal center into a large landfill, affecting more than 5,000 inmates and hundreds of officials, custodians, policemen and visitors.
Now, with EcoSólidos, an almost immediate positive impact was achieved in the penitentiary center, by making living conditions healthier and more dignified for all. Among other results, we have achieved the promotion of respect and safety of the personnel of the cleaning brigade, tensions between rival groups has diminished. It has also improved the disposition of those involved, who are now active, busy, working as a team and in the open air.