María Luisa Romero is a human rights advocate who served as minister of government and vice-minister of government of the Republic of Panama (January 2017-April 2018; July 2014-January 2017). In the Ministry of Government, Romero oversaw issues related to justice, governance, civil protection, refugees and indigenous peoples. She spearheaded a widely recognized prison reform effort that included professionalizing the prison system and strengthening citizen security through improved rehabilitation of detained individuals. Before entering public service, Romero worked as an independent human rights consultant (2013-2014); as a litigator in Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in New York City, where she advised clients with respect to regulatory, anti-corruption and human rights matters (2010-2013); and as an attorney at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica (2008-2009).
Romero started her human rights field work as a student member and later as a pro bono contributor to the International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School (2006-2008, 2010- 2012). Romero also worked at the Embassy of Panama in the United States and has contributed to several publications regarding human rights investigations. Romero earned her juris doctor degree, graduating cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 2008, and her bachelor’s degree in government, graduating magna cum laude, from Harvard College in 2004.
Romero sits on the board of directors of the Fundación Libertad Ciudadana, the local chapter of Transparency International in Panama. She is a member of the United Nations Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture for the 2019-2022 period. Romero is a Fellow of the Central America Leadership Initiative and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.
This report from the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program posits that policy reforms adopted out of necessity during the pandemic in regards to prison policy, some of which were considered politically unpalatable before the Covid-19 emergency, offer important lessons and in some cases proof of concept for overdue shifts in prison policy.