Ecuador has held the First Consensus Conference in the Penitentiary Field, organized by the EL PAcCTO Programme with the support of the European Union and the Esquel Foundation and coordinated by the Ecuadorian State. This was done after the President of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, declared the “State of Emergency” in his country’s prison system in July 2021 and the “State of Exception” in its social rehabilitation centres on 29 September 2021.
The idea was first mooted by the Technical Security Round Table – in November 2021 – organized by the Government of Ecuador in conjunction with the European Union, with the aim of considering and generating recommendations on the strategic, necessary and essential aspects of the reforms that Ecuador and its institutions must face with respect to the current prison crisis.
Blunt instruments in the midst of chaos
Consensus conferences help to reach an agreement by way of a formal process involving different figures regarding especially controversial and complex issues and favouring the choice of those guidelines most closely in line with the good practices of the sector in question.
In the case of Ecuador, it was considered essential to not only organize the Consensus Conference, but also to contribute and provide a specific methodology for decision-making in an area as complex as that of prisons based on a holistic and comprehensive approach that is also capable of considering, for example, aspects such as health and respect for the human rights of the inmates and of going beyond the purely regulatory issues dedicated to solving the “structural” problems of prisons.
More than 5000 participants consulted
In order to be able to strengthen the holistic purpose and better understand the perception of civil society regarding the issue of the prison crisis, a public survey was held together with the Esquel Foundation – a non-profit social organization with experience in creating spaces for dialogue and consensus with a democratic and pro-rights perspective – with more than 5,000 participants.
The conference lasted more than three days and consisted of panels and workshops, with the results obtained and generated at each technical round table being incorporated into a series of recommendations. The workshops, in particular, were a key tool for achieving the ultimate goal of bringing the recommendations to life and were the driving force behind this cooperative activity.
“The activities carried out did not end with the mere analysis of the problem, but with the productive contribution of specific solutions and proposals”
The “Systematization Document” of the first Consensus Conference in the Penitentiary Field in Ecuador details the result of this act of cooperation between EL PAcCTO, the Esquel Foundation and the National Comprehensive Care Service (SNAI).
A historic milestone for Ecuador
It is very important to highlight the historical role of this conference given that it recognizes the merit of having prepared a series of structured recommendations during a period of emergency in accordance with the so-called democratic ethos, with this being seen as a critical condition for the existence and functionality of the democratic system and its institutions based on the following minimum principles: transparency; a predefined methodological plan; multidisciplinarity/multi-professionalism and the representation of all the stakeholders.
An example for Latin America to follow
The act of cooperation has also aroused great interest at the regional level, with some Latin American countries such as Bolivia and El Salvador showing interest in this working method, meaning this contribution can also be reproduced in other countries whose interest can already be seen.
This experience shows that an opportunity exists for an incisive and structured action in the medium and long term aimed at analysing and solving systemic problems and the holistic and multidisciplinary approach as a response to emergency crises within the prison sector.
It is an idea that can be summed up by an old African proverb, according to which: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”. The goal is to go far, and this is only possible in a scenario of proactive and articulated construction based on the sharing and exchange of knowledge.
Lorenzo Tordelli, Coordinator-Manager of the Penitentiary Systems Component.