HomeNewsBriefDrones Rain Contraband on Panama Prison
BRIEF

Drones Rain Contraband on Panama Prison

BAGDAD / 26 NOV 2020 BY ALESSANDRO FORD EN

A sudden rise in smuggling into Panama’s largest prison complex has challenged the success of recent security reforms inside penitentiaries, as well as displayed the diversity and persistence of intra-prison smuggling tactics.

On November 12, at least two drones dropped various packages into the connected prisons of La Joya and La Nueva Joya, with guards seizing six that contained, among other things, marijuana and a cell phone. On November 15, another drone dropped pistol parts and eight packages of drugs into the complex’s third prison, La Joyita. On November 22, yet another drone launched two packages of “crispi” towards La Joya, a combination drug of marijuana and coca leaves popular in Panama.

These high-tech attempts occurred alongside more basic ploys, such as the eight contraband-containing briefcases found hidden outside one pavilion on November 16, the five packages containing revolvers and drugs that were thrown over the prison fence on November 19 and the four cell phones seized from visitors attempting to smuggle them in on November 22.

SEE ALSO: Rift in Bagdad Crime Syndicate Fueling Violence in Panama

These six attempts in 10 days all lead to seizures, but it remains unclear whether any packages slipped through. La Joya prison complex is infamous for the massacre that took place there in December 2019, when one gang faction attacked another using assault rifles and high-end pistols, killing 15 and wounding 11.

A subsequent investigation in January 2020 asserted that while the prison complex suffered from significant vulnerabilities, the budget for 2020-21 was “sufficient and [that] necessary improvements are imminent”. Two ministers resigned one month later after a high-risk inmate re-escaped the complex.

Since then, not only has La Joya continued to be plagued by escape attempts and the smuggling of weapons, drugs and contraband, but violence has not stopped either. In March, a video surfaced showing prisoners taking cover during a shootout that prison officials say was caused by fighting between rival gangs. In April, another shooting wounded two.

InSight Crime Analysis

Contraband smuggling is an inescapable reality in most Central American prisons, yet these continuous breaches are an embarrassment for Panama at a time when its prison security is alleged to be tighter than ever.

Drones were last reported to have been used to smuggle contraband into La Joya in September 2019, in what seems to have been a first for Panamanian prison officials. The three recent drone cases will likely not be the last, however, since their tactical asymmetry is making them increasingly popular among criminal groups.

The cases also reflect the increasing technological gap between smugglers and authorities in La Joya prison complex, which despite housing over 60 percent of Panama’s prison population has few metal detectors and scanners and inconsistent signal jamming systems. That said, standard contrabandist techniques remain effective given the penitentiary lacks basic protective mechanisms, such as watchtowers, lights and security cameras, while dilapidated roads slow patrols outside the fence.

SEE ALSO: The Prison Dilemma: Latin America's Incubators of Organized Crime

Nor have prison employees always been searched, though this is gradually changing in order to better tackle the corruption seen in other Panamanian prisons. Guards generally tend to be understaffed and overworked, with only 800 manning Panama’s entire overcrowded prison system of nearly 18,000 inmates, according to a government statement last January. For that reason, there is little permanent guard presence inside La Joya complex and inmates move largely without supervision.

This facilitates prison violence between and within Panama’s two main criminal federations, Bagdad and Calor Calor, such as the 2019 massacre that occurred between two Bagdad factions.

Furthermore, the lack of inmate security, let alone opportunity for rehabilitation, may exacerbate the environment by forcing inmates to join gangs during their incarceration. This then perpetuates smuggling, since authorities report smuggling at La Joya is often perpetuated by former inmates who begin supplying their former cellmates upon their release.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

HEROIN / 2 AUG 2011

Panama authorities confiscated more than 600 kilos of heroin, worth at least $70 million, from a car in a remote…

PRISONS / 17 MAY 2012

In one of Venezuela's most violent and overcrowded prisons, the underground economy reportedly brings in some $3.7 million a year,…

ARGENTINA / 14 MAY 2020

Amid a shortage of cigarettes in Argentina after factory closings due to the coronavirus pandemic, the black market cigarette trade…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…