HomeNewsAnalysisReport Highlights Mexico's Chaotic Prison System
ANALYSIS

Report Highlights Mexico's Chaotic Prison System

HUMAN RIGHTS / 1 OCT 2015 BY PATRICK CORCORAN EN

A new report from Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights documents the deplorable conditions in the nation's prisons, highlighting a fundamental obstacle to improvements in security.

The National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) recently published its annual examination of Mexico’s prisons and jails, and the 585-page report offers a detailed radiography of the system’s many ills.

The CNDH measured the state and national prison facilities according to five categories: how well a facility protects the physical and moral condition of an inmate; whether it guarantees a dignified stay; the facility’s governability; its success in preparing inmates for societal readaptation; and whether it protects at-risk groups, like HIV-positive inmates.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Rights

The state prisons secured an average rating of 6.02 out of ten, their lowest rating in the past four years. There was a great deal of variation in the scores, from a high of 7.59 in Guanajuato to a low of 3.66 in Quintana Roo. There was little correlation between a state’s ties to organized crime and the condition of its prisons. Violence riddled northern states like Sinaloa, Guerrero, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo Leon were all among the eight lowest scorers, but equally chaotic states like Chihuahua and Baja California both scored well above the national average. Similarly, some of the most peaceful states were among the worst performers.

The federal prisons, known in Mexico as "ceferesos,” generally scored higher and saw lower variation from one center to the next. The average score was a 6.83 out of ten, ranging from a score of 5.59 in a Ciudad Juarez prison to an 8.18 for a federal prison in Morelos.

While their scores were more constant, the federal prisons showed an enormous amount of variation in the populations housed within. Some of the most notorious prisons were drastically overpopulated, a long-term problem in Mexico. One prison in Sonora was designed for 2,520 inmates, but was housing nearly 3,500 the day of CNDH’s visit. The Juarez prison that stands at the bottom of the CNDH’s rankings was built for 848 inmates, but was home to 1,150. The Altiplano prison, from which Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman escaped earlier this year, has 1,140 people living in a space designed for 836. As Alejandro Hope has written, any prison that is so dramatically above its residency capacity has no hope of actually providing maximum security against escapes, massacres, or criminal activity within the prison, notwithstanding the label.

At the same time, many other federal prisons are nowhere near capacity.

InSight Crime Analysis

Mexico’s chaotic prison system remains one of the foremost obstacles to a safer nation. The most glaring example of the system’s defects is Guzman’s escape, but such cases are legion. In 2010, 191 prisoners slipped away from jails in Tamaulipas in two separate incidents. Thirty inmates escaped from a prison in Nuevo Leon during a 2012 riot, in which 44 prisoners lost their lives. In perhaps the most notorious recent incident prior to Guzman’s escape, more than 50 alleged members of the Zetas were filmed walking out of the front door of a Zacatecas prison in 2009.

Escapes are hardly the only manifestation of the jails’ breakdown. Mass killings inside the prison have been regular occurrences in recent years. In addition to the Nuevo Leon riot, since 2009 dozens of prisoners at a time have died in riots in Gomez Palacio on two occasions; in Juarez on two occasions; in Durango; in Mazatlan; and in Tamaulipas. No system that has hosted so many bloodbaths in such a short time period can be fulfilling its goals.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Prisons

Inmates often control the prisons to the degree that they can continue carrying out criminal activities from behind bars. Many virtual kidnapping rings -- which falsely attempt to convince their targets that a loved one has been kidnapped so as to secure a ransom payment to be deposited into a bank account -- operate from behind bars. There are also several examples of top drug kingpins retaining control over their empires despite living behind bars, which has been one of the justifications for increased extraditions to the United States in recent years.

Unfortunately, there has been little sustained effort to improve Mexico’s prisons. Former President Felipe Calderon pushed to construct new prison facilities, but it does not appear that his efforts actually led to a substantial increase in capacity nationwide. It also seems that prison reform lacks any dedicated support within the Peña Nieto administration.

Unfortunately, as the CNDH report makes clear, there is lots of work left to be done.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 22 JAN 2015

A new study suggests the number of guns trafficked from the United States to Mexico is higher than previously believed,…

MEXICO / 9 JAN 2012

Mexico's Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) is distinct from most other rebels organizations in Latin America, having remained within…

EL CHAPO / 2 MAY 2017

A prominent leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and former right-hand man to Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán has been arrested in Mexico City,…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…