HomeNewsBriefEl Salvador Moves to Clamp Down on Prisons, Gangs
BRIEF

El Salvador Moves to Clamp Down on Prisons, Gangs

EL SALVADOR / 1 APR 2016 BY MICHAEL LOHMULLER EN

El Salvador's Congress unanimously approved a packet of "extraordinary" measures to be implemented in the country's prison system as tensions in the government's standoff with street gangs continue to deepen.

President Salvador Sanchez Ceren signed the bill into law almost immediately after the April 1 vote and the Prensa Grafica reported that it would go into effect within 24 hours. The measures (pdf) will tighten restrictions on prison inmates and halt them from ordering crimes from behind bars, reported El Diario de Hoy.

Minister of Justice Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde deemed the measures necessary because "the ordinary regulations are insufficient" to effectively control the prisons, creating conditions criminal groups take advantage of.

The measures will be in effect for one year and include provisions for:

  • The isolation or transfer of dangerous inmates to special, more restrictive jail conditions (on March 28, 299 mid-level gang members were transferred to Quezaltepeque prison, recently modified to enhance security)
  • The suspension of inmate transfers to judicial proceedings (a judge or court will conduct any necessary proceedings virtually or within prison walls)
  • The restriction of visitation rights
  • Mandatory inmate participation in reeducation and work skills programs
  • The cutting of telecommunications traffic to prisons

The measures will first be implemented in seven prisons where a state of emergency was recently declared, with other prisons potentially included in the future.

Telecommunications companies that do not cut service in and around prisons by an established deadline could be fined $750,000 per day. New telecommunications infrastructure, such as cell towers, can not be placed within 500 meters of any prison.

Additionally, the law streamlines the process for making prison renovations or constructing temporary centers to house less dangerous inmates. According to La Prensa Grafica, El Salvador's prisons have a designed capacity of about 10,100 inmates, but hold 33,000.

InSight Crime Analysis

The new measures are the latest in a string of recent government initiatives to control El Salvador's extreme levels of violence. The first two months of 2016 averaged 23 murders per day, a 120 percent increase over the same period in 2015.

These initiatives have specifically targeted the country's notorious street gangs, which are largely behind the violence, inflaming tensions between the government and powerful MS13 and Barrio 18 gangs. The new law, however, takes a direct shot at the heart of the gangs: their imprisoned leadership.

SEE ALSO: InDepth: Prisons

El Salvador's prisons have long acted as vital centers of gang activity, providing an incubator for members to recruit, coordinate and consolidate themselves. They have continued to engage in criminal dealings -- particularly extortion via cell phone and enforced by gang members on the outside.

If implemented effectively, isolating the gangs' top leadership, nearly all of whom are behind bars, from the outside world could potentially throw the gangs into disarray.

In the short to medium term, however, the crackdown could provoke a backlash from gang members on the streets, increasing levels of violence. That is what happened early in 2015 after officials transferred gang leaders to maximum-security prisons following the collapse of a gang truce.

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

EL SALVADOR / 21 MAR 2016

Salvadorans witnessed a murderous weekend with the killings of two police officers, dozens of alleged gang members and the seizure…

HUMAN RIGHTS / 14 DEC 2015

Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto has put forth two new initiatives aimed at combating kidnapping and torture, but local…

EL SALVADOR / 25 MAY 2017

Police chiefs from three different US counties impacted by the MS13 street gang spoke out about policies adopted by President…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…

THE ORGANIZATION

Exploring Climate Change and Organized Crime

10 SEP 2021

In July, InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley moderated a panel for the Climate Reality Project's regional series of workshops for young climate activists in the Americas. The week-long event…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gearing Up a New Class of Interns

3 SEP 2021

InSight Crime is readying its newest class of interns – from universities in Europe and the Americas – to begin investigative work on a number of high-impact projects. For the…

THE ORGANIZATION

Tracking Environmental Crime in the Amazon

27 AUG 2021

Next week, InSight Crime launches an investigation – conducted with Brazilian think-tank the Igarapé Institute – on the sophisticated organized crime structures and armed groups that…