GENERAL INFORMATION FOR
AMERICAN PRISONERS IN PANAMA
The following information reiterates most of what we have already told you by telephone.
Upon arrest, the Consul of the U.S. Embassy in Panama makes an initial visit to the
arrestee to verify the condition of arrestee, obtain family contact information, and answer
general questions about the prison situation in Panama. Subsequently, the Consul visits
the American prisoners quarterly to check on their welfare.
The Consul of the U.S. Embassy does not provide legal counsel of any form to the
arrestee. The arrestee is given a lawyer list that is kept by the Embassy, however, we do
not make recommendations that the arrestee use these lawyers or any other lawyer in
particular. One may also chose to use a public defender in Panama. All legal decisions
are to be made by the arrestee, the U.S. Embassy cannot help with the legal proceedings.
Many of the judicial processes are lengthy in Panama. Usually upon arrest, one is
detained in a holding cell until transferred to a prison. The time in this holding cell can
last from days to weeks. Once transferred, prisoners are usually allowed one phone call.
After that call, there is infrequent opportunity to make phone calls. The rules vary from
prison to prison, but many months may pass before a prisoner is allowed another phone
call. Prisoners are allowed to call the Consul at the U.S. Embassy, and we urge them to
do so if they encounter abusive situations.
The condition of living in the prisons is usually below expectations of Americans.
Prisoners live in close quarters, are fed a minimal amount of food, are given little or
nothing in the way of toiletries, and there are few or no activities in the prisons. In
general, we find that prisoners are hungry and bored. Families can help with this
situation if they so chose.
Prisoners can buy more food in the prison if they have money. Families can set
up a money wire transfer account with western Union and the United States
Department of State. Simply go to your local Western Union and ask to set up an
account with the U.S. Department of State. You will need to specify that the
account is for an American prisoner in Panama and give the name of the prisoner.
The initial cost of opening a prisoner money wire account is $30 (this does not
include the normal fees charged by Western Union). Families can then wire
money to the U.S. Department of State, which is wired to the Embassy, and then
delivered by the Embassy to the prisoner.
Package can be sent directly to the prisoner; the U.S. Embassy does not accept
packages for prisoners. There is no guarantee that care packages will make it to
the prisoners, therefore, one should be cautious about sending anything valuable.
Prisoners often need nutritional food items, bedding, clothes, and reading and
writing material. The prison will not accept canned goods. The prisoners get
very little protein, so evaporated milk, nutrition bars, or cereal, are always useful.
__________________________ is currently being held at ___________________
Name prison name
The mailing address is:
The phone number of the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is 507-207-7000,
Business hours are from 08:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and afternoons are the best time
to call. During daylight savings time, Panama is on Central time, and on standard
time, Panama is on Eastern Standard Time.
As previously noted, the Panamanian judicial process is lengthy, and there is an
average time period of 6-8 months before a trial date is set and then it generally
takes to the end of the first year for the trial process to be completed. After the
sentencing, provided there are no appeals pending, a prisoner may requests to be
transferred to the U.S. prison system under the Prisoner Treaty Transfer between
Panama and the U.S. At this time, the transfer process takes up to a year, and
then prisoners are taken to a prison in the U.S. Most American cases are looking
at a minimum of two years in the Panamanian system.
If family members or friends are planning to visit the prisoner in Panama, you
may contact the U.S. embassy first and we will make arrangements for you to
have extended visitation hours, since visitation here is usually once a week.
We hope that this information helps you in understanding the prison situation here in
Panama. Please feel free to contact us with any further questions.