The Pacora Juvenile Rehabilitation Center opened in early 2012 on the outskirts of Panama City, Panama. This project is part of the International Development Bank IDB-financed Comprehensive Security Program that aims to strengthen public safety with emphasis on prevention and care for at-risk youth.
The Center’s modern approach to improve care and treatment of youth involved in conflict with the law has become a model for youth rehabilitation in the region. Known as “the Pacora model”, this approach has gained international recognition for achieving recidivism rates that are significantly lower than the national average. In 2015 the model was been identified by the UN as a “benchmark model of success and replicability in other regional contexts”.
The design of the center follows a campus-style configuration intended to resemble more of a college campus than a prison. The campus comprises 17 buildings, including an infirmary, a kitchen and a canteen, a laundry room, a library, classrooms and workshops, connected through internal streets and paths. Recreational areas and multi-purpose open spaces are also available in support of the physical health and wellbeing of the youth. The center is equipped with a control booth, locking systems, surveillance cameras and detection devices and all the necessary support and service infrastructures of a modern complex.
Young offenders are housed in 6 accommodation pavilions which, together, provide the capacity to house up to 194 youth. In 2017, one of the pavilions was remodeled to function as a ”therapeutic community” for the intensive an comprehensive treatment of youth with alcohol or substance use disorders. In addition, in an effort to increase the chances of a successful reintegration into the community upon release, a new 108-bed Transition Center is being built in Pacora that, upon reaching adulthood, will allow 18 years old continue with their treatment plan and finish their sentenced in a juvenile center, rather than being transferred to an adult facility.
With regards to the treatment of youth, the facility follows a comprehensive rehabilitation model that is based on a six-phase reeducation program and individualized treatment plan. Minors progress through the program by obtaining new skills, aptitudes, tools, and productive activities through the educational and vocational programs, acquiring more autonomy and responsibilities from phase to phase.
Education, vocational training and employment readiness are cornerstones of this methodology. In the program each minor learns a specific technical skillset to prepare them to successfully re-enter the labor force and society. At the same time, through employability partnerships, private businesses are encouraged to employ the minors when they leave prison so they can put their skills to productive use, setting them on a path to successful reintegration. Artistic development is another key pillar of this integrated approach, with painting, cooking, and music courses giving youth an opportunity to nurture their creative selves and understand their potential and abilities to serve people and society.