HomeNewsBriefDeadly Riot Illustrates Mexico’s Prison Woes
BRIEF

Deadly Riot Illustrates Mexico’s Prison Woes

MEXICO / 15 FEB 2016 BY DAVID GAGNE EN

The prison in northern Mexico where dozens died during a recent riot is a microcosm of all that is ailing Mexico’s penitentiary system: corruption, overcrowding, deplorable living conditions and what is described as the criminal groups’ “self-government” in the jails.

On February 14, state officials said the Topo Chico prison — the scene of a brawl that left 49 people dead last week in the northern state of Nuevo León — contained “luxury cells” replete with aquariums, air conditioners, portable saunas and a bar, reported AFP.

Authorities said the riot stemmed from a quarrel between the leaders of two rival factions of the Zetas criminal organization who were disputing control of the prison. 

Officials said police regained control of the prison and “put an end to the self-government that leaders of organized crime exerted with the complicity of some authorities.” 

Authorities have arrested the warden and superintendent of the prison on drug trafficking charges, as well as for neglecting to uphold security protocols, according to the AFP. 

In contrast to the luxurious living quarters of some criminal leaders, the majority of the prisoners at Topo Chico are kept in cells that do not have light, water or ventilation, reported the BBC.

With more than 3,800 inmates, the prison is operating at 35 percent above maximum capacity, according to the BBC.

InSight Crime Analysis

Corruption, overcrowding, terrible living conditions, and criminal rule are some of the most serious issues afflicting Mexico’s prisons. All of these factors coalesced at Topo Chico to turn the prison into what Mexican human rights organizations had previously described, Proceso writes, as a “ticking time bomb.” 

Despite the recent police intervention at Topo Chico, it is unlikely the dire conditions within Mexico prisons will see a significant improvement. Mexican authorities have consistently failed to enact long-term prison reform, and only take immediate action when a bloody riot such as the one last week grabs the attention of the media and the public.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Prisons

Even more troubling are the warning signs that authorities missed, either out of ignorance, corruption or willful indifference. According to Proceso, military intelligence sent former Nuevo León Governor Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz (2009-2015) a report describing how corrupt prison officials were enabling the Zetas to earn 15 million pesos per month (nearly $800,000 at current exchange rates) at Topo Chico prison via extortion and drug trafficking.

And yet, authorities clearly did not make a concerted effort to break the criminal group’s control over the prison until after last week’s riot. 

Compartir icon icon icon

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

HONDURAS / 27 MAY 2011

Mexico's Marines arrested a man accused of being a Sinaloa Cartel contact in Honduras. The suspect owns shipping companies…

ARGENTINA / 15 JAN 2018

Corruption scandals have continued to break at dizzying pace across Latin America throughout 2017, spanning politics, business, the security…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 7 MAY 2013

A German arms manufacturer has admitted to illegally selling thousands of rifles to Mexico, where the weapons were reportedly…

About InSight Crime

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. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…