“If today I had the choice to choose between a brush and a gun, I would choose the brush.”


The juvenile rehabilitation center in Pacora, Panama is proving to be a model to follow in the region, as recidivism rates from this prison are significantly lower than the national average. Lidia Castaneda, the Director of this juvenile prison, deeply believes that youth who have been involved in criminal activities deserve a second chance at life and the opportunity to become productive members of their communities. The process of rehabilitation at this center is based on a six-phase reeducation program. As the minors progress through the program from phase to phase, life begins to change for them.

Vocational training and employment readiness are cornerstones of the 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 private businesses in the region 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 reintegration.



There are many different theories as to what Panama means, including ‘many butterflies’, ‘abundance of fish’, or a derivate of the name of a common tree species. Home to the Panama Canal, which services 144 trade routes, Panama has one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. Yet this growth has not translated into shared prosperity as Panama has the second-highest income inequality in the region.


  • • Population: 3,929,141
  • • 29% of its population lives below the poverty line, with 12% living in extreme poverty.
  • • Approximately 1.5 million people are incarcerated in Latin America and the Caribbean. If the growth rate of the past decade continues, that number is set to triple by 2030, exceeding the population of Uruguay.
  • • Panamanian prisons are operating at 145.12% of their capacity.
  • • It is estimated that 32% of young people under 30 in Panama do not study or work, much higher than the Latin American average of 21%.