HomeNewsBriefAttempted Uprising Highlights Lack of Control in Guatemala Prisons
BRIEF

Attempted Uprising Highlights Lack of Control in Guatemala Prisons

GUATEMALA / 7 OCT 2016 BY LUIS FERNANDO ALONSO EN

A prison riot in Guatemala highlights a broken system that continues to suffer from overcrowding, rising violence and a lack of organizational leadership -- all of which likely exacerbates the nation's gang problems.

The riot occurred on October 6 at the high-security Boquerón prison in the Santa Rosa Department of Guatemala. Inmates began the disturbance after an announcement regarding new security measures, but security forces eventually restored a semblance of order, reported elPeriódico.

This riot comes as amid ongoing problems in Guatemala's penetentiary system. According to statistics from the Human Rights Ombudsman (Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos - PDH) reported by Prensa Libre, problems of overcrowding and violence are endemic in many prisons.

The penitentiary system as a whole is operating at 200 percent over capacity. Boquerón, where the riot took place, is currently operating at nearly 600 percent over capacity, reported Prensa Libre.

According to the PDH, part of the reason for the overcrowding is the large number of prisoners who are in pre-trial detention, as well as those who have served their sentences but for various reasons have not been released. Fifty-two percent of prisoners spend at least 10 months in pre-trail detention, according to the PDH report, which also notes that pre-trial detention "tends to be disproportionately applied to low-income individuals."

Speaking to Prensa Libre, Gerardo Villamar Ramírez, a due process expert at the PDH, highlighted the lack of resources devoted to prison system.

"In Preventative Zone 18, there are 4,800 inmates and only 80 guards. Only about 30 of these guards stay near the prison center, as the others go out to hearings, hospitals and to other duties," said Ramírez. "In practice, inside the prisons, a defendant has to attempt to coexist with everyone else because there is an absence of the state."

In addition, 2016 has seen a marked increase in violent deaths behind bars. Between 2010 and 2014, the prison system recorded 23 violent deaths. So far this year, there have been at least 40. One of the most prominent cases was the July murder of the "king" of the Pavón prison, Byron Lima.

The prison system, which houses more than 20,000 inmates, has had virtually no leadership for over a year. In July 2015, the Interior Ministry decided to terminate the contracts of directors and deputy directors to save resources. According to security analyst Corinne Dedik, authorities have rotated guards in as interim directors rather than hiring permanent administrators. 

Insight Crime Analysis

High rates of prison overpopulation in Guatemala and other countries in Latin America have been fueled by heavy-handed security policies and overuse of pre-trial detention. This dynamic has been credited with facilitating criminal activity in Guatemala, as poorly-managed prisons have become recruitment centers for the nation's street gangs -- a phenomenon that has also been observed in other prison systems in the region.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Prisons

While security forces were able to contain the recent attempted uprising at Boquerón, the incident serves as a warning about the potential consequences of leaving these long-standing problems unaddressed. Riots at prisons in countries with similar problems of overcrowding and poor management, like Mexico and Brazil, frequently turn deadly.

The lesson may be that investing in alleviating overcrowding and improving prison management could prove less costly for governments in the long run than attempting to respond to these violent incidents on an ad hoc basis. 

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

GUATEMALA / 24 SEP 2014

Former MS13 members in Guatemala have provided a breakdown of the rankings and pay scales within the gang's hierarchy, which…

ARGENTINA / 20 FEB 2019

Since beginning in Brazil with the “Operation Car Wash” (“Operação Lava Jato”) investigation in 2014, the Odebrecht corruption scandal has…

GUATEMALA / 4 NOV 2014

In a landmark case in Guatemala, 86 gang members were sentenced in the same trial, a strategy that could serve…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…

THE ORGANIZATION

Backing Investigative Journalism Around the Globe

5 NOV 2021

InSight Crime was a proud supporter of this year's Global Investigative Journalism Conference, which took place November 1 through November 5 and convened nearly 2,000 journalists…