HomeNewsBriefCorruption Fueling Black Markets in Guatemala Prisons
BRIEF

Corruption Fueling Black Markets in Guatemala Prisons

GUATEMALA / 4 FEB 2014 BY MICHAEL LOHMULLER EN

Corruption in Guatemala’s prisons has created a prison black market where everything from cell phones to prison transfers are for sale, in another sign of the deep rooted institutional weakness rife in the region’s prison systems.

The corruption and debility in Guatemala’s Penitentiary System (SP) has allowed prisoners to establish a brutal hierarchy with the inmates that are able to impose their will on others enjoying the most privileges, sources told La Hora.

Upon entering prison for the first time, an inmate is subjected to physical and sexual abuse. In some cases, however, they can prevent this from happening by paying $380 to $640, reported La Hora.

Prison guards and staff have been frequently denounced as complicit in this behavior and accused of profiting from the system. They reportedly charge inmates thrown into solitary confinement for misbehaving between $12 and $38 to leave and have the incident removed from their record to avoid a longer prison stay. There have also been cases of inmates paying to be transferred from one prison to another — at a cost of over $19,000 — a process involving high ranking prison officials, reported La Hora.

Corruption also facilitates the entry of contraband. Cell phones, for example, are available in the country’s prisons, but can cost anywhere between $65 and $380, and are used to commit extortion or plan criminal activity outside prison walls.

InSight Crime Analysis

Overcrowding, under-resourcing, institutional corruption and the growth of prison gangs have created similar conditions to those highlighted in Guatemala throughout Latin America.

In many cases prisons are controlled almost entirely by prisoners themselves, whether it is the kingpins known as “prans” in Venezuela, the prisoner groups called “delegates” in Bolivia, or gangs that operate in and outside prison walls, such as Central America’s “maras” or the First Capital Command (PCC) and Red Command (Comando Vermelho) in Brazil. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Prisons

These inmates, along with corrupt officials, oversee what can be huge prison economies — in Venezuela, for instance, the prison black market has been reported to bring in about $3.7 million per year. Sometimes, as with payments noted in Guatemala, these are internal economies, focused on drug sales or charging for everything from beds to privileges. However, these economies often also extend outside the prison walls. This is especially prevalent in Central America where gangs, especially the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18, make extensive use of cell phones to commit extortion

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.

Related Content

EL SALVADOR / 3 AUG 2015

Six leaders of El Salvador's MS13 street gang escaped from police custody, drawing attention to the role that official corruption…

ELITES AND CRIME / 20 APR 2018

A controversial commission has selected the final candidates for Guatemala's next attorney general, illustrating how criminal elites may have manipulated…

GUATEMALA / 12 OCT 2011

As drug trafficking networks deepen their activities in Central America some analysts have expressed concern at the prospect of countries…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Strategic Communications Manager Job Description

12 FEB 2021

InSight Crime is looking for a full-time strategic communications manager. This person needs to be able to work in a fast-paced world of daily news, high-profile investigations, national and international…

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …