l) Testimony of Maureen Antoinette Herman, PROJOVEN official PROJOVEN, a nongovernmental organization, has been operating in Paraguay since 2000. The witness has been working with high-risk adolescents in conflict with the law since September 1996.
PROJOVEN organized training projects for juvenile offenders at the Center and in the cellblock for juveniles at Emboscada (when the minors were transferred there in the wake of the fires at the Panchito López Center) and at the Itauguá Education Center. She also made occasional visits and followed a number of cases of juveniles who claimed they were unable to communicate with their defense counsel and/or families
In 2001, PROJOVEN conducted a series of workshops at the Center. During that period, they could almost always rely upon the authorities’ support to gain access to the Center and work with the inmates. However, one problem she had when working at the Center was that it did not have sufficient staff to be present in the patio while they conducted the workshops. Also, of the forty inmates they worked with, most were under the effects of marijuana. “Living conditions at the [Center] were clearly subhuman; the infrastructure was completely inadequate [and] unhealthy for the inmate population; this posed an immediate threat to the inmates.”
The Center was managed in very disorganized fashion. It had no system for filing the records on the adolescents. The procedures followed in situations in which their lives were in peril were not what they should have been. The staff did not have the training needed to ensure the inmates’ safety and prevent violation of juvenile offenders’ rights. “Without exaggerating […] I would have to describe what went on as a civil war; there was constant internal conflict among the inmates themselves and between the inmates and the authorities, specifically the guards.” Her group came to the Center knowing that their lives were in danger and accepting that risk.
Had it not been for the fire, the Center would still be operating today. The closing of the Center was necessary. However, because it was a forced closing, it did not trigger major changes in the living conditions of incarcerated juveniles in Paraguay. Itauguá is much better and is fit for the population, but the same problems persist in the Director’s Office and living conditions are not very different from what they were at Panchito López.
The changes in the law are most welcome. However, there are no mechanisms by which to implement these new laws. Implementation will be a slow process because of resistance on the part of some judges who do not approve of the alternative measures.