A new maximum security prison in Honduras is now up and running after receiving its first inmates, marking an initial step toward a planned overhaul of the country's troubled correctional system.
Honduran authorities transferred 37 high-risk prisoners, including leaders of the Barrio 18 gang, to the new El Pozo prison on September 19, La Prensa reported. The news outlet also reported that many of the inmates are suspected of having ordered killings, kidnappings or extortion from within their previous prison.
The newly operational $25 million facility, whose construction began in 2014 and is now 98 percent complete, has a total capacity of more than 2,000 inmates spread over three separate sections: a low, a medium and a high security area, reported El Heraldo.
Located in a remote area of Santa Bárbara department, the facility is meant to completely isolate the most dangerous prisoners. Five sets of guarded gates separate the maximum security confinement area from the outer premises of the facility, and prisoners will have no access to internet, mobile phones or landlines, according to La Prensa.
President Juan Orlando Hernández said high-risk inmates will be allowed one hour outside per day. They will have "no right to make phone calls and their visits will be suspended indefinitely," the president said, arguing that these inmates had "abused of their rights to visits and communications, using codes and other tricks to send messages to their accomplices on the outside."
As La Tribuna reported, the president also stated that the new facility respected United Nations regulations concerning the treatment of prisoners, and that the prison guards working in the high-security confinement area had been trained according to international standards.
InSight Crime Analysis
With an overcrowding rate of nearly 200 percent and more than 8,000 prisoners detained while awaiting trial, many experts have raised concerns that penetentiary facilities in Honduras encourage criminal activity rather than containing it. And while many inmates are being kept in conditions which contravene international norms, a few powerful criminals or former elites enjoy luxurious lifestyles within the prison walls.
On the same day as the transfer of the 37 inmates, news reports revealed that Arnaldo Urbina Soto, a former mayor suspected of involvement in drug trafficking and hired killings, had been hiding more than $200,000 in his cell, which was reportedly equipped with air conditioning, a private bathroom and a wardrobe.
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Although not all criminals enjoy the same privileges as this former member of the political elite, some facilities have been so profoundly mismanaged that gang leaders have assumed control, allowing them to conduct illegal activities from within prison walls. In light of these shortcomings, President Hernandez announced "a profound restructuring" of the prison system at the beginning of September.
Improved security measures like those planned for El Pozo could help solve some of Honduras' critical penitentiary issues. But even state of the art facilities can be undermined by corruption among guards and other prison officials -- something Honduran officials will have keep in mind in order to ensure the multimillion dollar expenditure on the new facility was not in vain.