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

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 10 JUN 2019

Government-regulated crocodile and turtle farms have helped reduce illegal hunting and protect endangered species, but the illicit trade continues.

MEXICO / 5 JUL 2011

Mexican authorities arrested one of the founding members of the Zetas near Mexico City, dealing a…

EL CHAPO / 12 NOV 2013

Just as every major crime group has its myth and legend, every criminal case to take them down is built…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.

THE ORGANIZATION

Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.

THE ORGANIZATION

Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.

THE ORGANIZATION

Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.

THE ORGANIZATION

Combating Environmental Crime in Colombia

15 JUN 2021

InSight Crime presented findings from an investigation into the main criminal activities fueling environmental destruction in Colombia.