HomeNewsBriefEl Salvador Intensifies Attempts to Break Gangs' Control over Prisons
BRIEF

El Salvador Intensifies Attempts to Break Gangs' Control over Prisons

BARRIO 18 / 16 FEB 2017 BY LEONARDO GOI EN

Authorities in El Salvador have announced a massive transfer of incarcerated MS13 and Barrio 18 members to a single prison facility, in an effort to reverse the gangs' consolidation of power within the penitentiary system. 

Nearly 3,600 incarcerated gang members will be transferred to the Izalco prison in western El Salvador, reported El Mundo. The inmates are members of the MS13 and its rival the Barrio 18, the country's two largest gang structures.

The director of the country's prisons, Rodil Hernández, said the process will begin on February 21 with the transfer of nearly 1,300 inmates, while the remaining 2,300 are scheduled to arrive within the following 45 days. The decision aims to reduce the chronic overcrowding of El Salvador's prisons and sever contact between imprisoned gang members and the outside world. 

Meanwhile, Justice and Security Minister Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde has announced that the government will begin a rehabilitation and reintegration program for gang members who reside both in and out of the prisons. 

InSight Crime Analysis

How to tackle the threats posed by imprisoned gang members is a question that El Salvador has long grappled with. A forthcoming report by InSight Crime documents how, over a period of decades, the prisons became a center of operations for the country's largest and most violent street gangs. 

Members of the MS13 and Barrio 18 gangs began to arrive in the country's prison towards the end of the civil war between the government and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional - FMLN).

Thanks to a policy known as "Mano Dura" (Iron Fist), the country's prison population began to swell, as did the number of incarcerated gang members. The number of inmates across the country rose from 7,754 in 2000 to 35,879 in October 2016. By 2015, a third of the total inmate population were gang members.

SEE ALSO: InDepth: Prisons

Clashes between MS13 and Barrio 18 inmates became so frequent and violent that by the end of 2000, authorities decided to assign inmates to segregated prisons. The separation of the gangs into their own facilities significantly reduced violence, but it also allowed them to tighten control over prisons. The prisons effectively became the gangs' headquarters, where they could recruit new members and grow their power. 

Conscious of these threats, authorities have recently begun to move away from the segregation policy. The planned transfers to Izlaco of both MS13 and Barrio 18 members is a reflection of this shift in strategy. 

These changes have already had a major impact on the demographics of Izalco. For years a prison reserved for members of the Barrio 18 gang, dozens of MS13 members were transferred there in 2015, including Antonio Carrillo Alfaro, alias "El Chory." Chory was a mid-level leader of the MS13 who led a rebellion within the gang before being assassinated on January 6, 2016 on orders from the MS13's top command. 

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

BARRIO 18 / 1 MAR 2022

Dozens of Barrio 18 members in El Salvador allegedly conspired with street vendors to divert pandemic relief funds.

COLOMBIA / 17 DEC 2021

A lucrative covert delivery business run by prison guards in Colombia has provided yet another example of the diverse range…

BRAZIL / 24 MAR 2022

The 2021 ranking of the world's most violent cities predictably features a heavy presence by Latin American and Caribbean population…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…