The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says the 24 prisons in Honduras are controlled by inmates because the state has abandoned its responsibility for rehabilitating people convicted of crimes.
In its report released on Friday, the Washington-based commission said that one consequence of the state abandonment of the prisons is the rise of so-called systems of self-governance that are headed by inmates known as coordinators.
The coordinators are picked by the inmates and set rules for the prison, including disciplinary measures, it said.
The commission said the prisons are so poorly guarded that the inmates could escape if they wanted to, especially in the prison in the city of San Pedro Sula.
"Prisoners do not escape because they prefer not to upset this balance,'" the former director of the San Pedro Sula prison told the commission.
Another prison official told the commission that prison authorities there have no power to change the situation.
Most of the complaints by inmates are against the coordinators for physically assaulting them, something that happens in full view of prison guards, according to the commission.
Official corruption and overcrowding have exacerbated the situation. About half of all inmates are awaiting trial.
The government says more than 12,000 Honduran incarcerated even though its prisons can only hold 8,000 inmates.
The commission recommended in the report, which was presented to President Porfirio Lobo in Tegucigalpa, that the government focus not only on the construction of new jails and improving existing ones, but also on adopting genuine public policies much broader in scope.
Last year, the government allocates a budget of $19.3m to the prison system, 83 percent of that money went to pay the salaries of prison staff.