HomeNewsBriefEl Salvador Govt Plans End to Gang-Segregated Prisons
BRIEF

El Salvador Govt Plans End to Gang-Segregated Prisons

EL SALVADOR / 30 JUL 2014 BY JAMES BARGENT EN

El Salvador's security minister has said that the government intends to end the practice of separating prisoners based on their gang affiliation, in comments that acknowledge the failings of the policy but not the reality of the country's gang-controlled penitentiaries.

The minister for justice and public security, Benito Lara, told journalists that the decision to hold members of different gangs, principally the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18, in separate prisons was a mistake and would be ended in the "not too distant" future, reported La Prensa Grafica.

Lara said he backed an opposition congressman's proposal to reform the country's Prison Law to make it illegal to assign convicts to prisons based on gang membership or other organized crime affiliations.

The minister said reforms were made more urgent by the fracturing of gang structures, and the emergence of new factions within these criminal groups.

"In some places the gangs have divided, and we cannot place each one in their own exclusive prison," he said.

Gang members make up around 36 percent of El Salvador's prison population. There are currently two prisons which house a total of 5,432 MS13 members, and four prisons for the two factions of Barrio 18, with 2,351 "Revolucionarios" and 2,135 "Sureños" incarcerated, reported La Prensa Grafica.

InSight Crime Analysis

El Salvador has been separating prisoners by gang membership since 2003, when the government decided it was the best way to reduce prison violence following massive riots.

While the benefits of separating two organizations involved in a long-running and brutal gang war are self-evident, the segregation has had various unintended consequences that have helped strengthen the gangs.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

Turning over entire prisons to one gang has allowed these groups to take near-complete control of the facilities where they are housed. Keeping gang leaders and their underlings all together has also facilitated communication and made it easier to conduct and coordinate criminal activities from the inside. Critics also say (pdf) that segregation has reinforced gang identify and feelings of cohesion and loyalty, as well as increasing members' hostility towards their enemies.

However, despite these drawbacks to segregation, the conditions in El Salvador prison system mean that any moves towards ending the practice could prove even more problematic. The country's prisons are horrendously overcrowded, understaffed and under-resourced, and the authorities have little control over what happens inside. Unless the state can reclaim control over the prisons first, moves to integrate opposing gang members could end in a bloodbath.

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

MEXICO / 26 NOV 2013

A recent report from a Mexican NGO tackles the crisis in the nation's penitentiary system, unearthing a number of critical…

EL SALVADOR / 21 MAY 2014

Authorities in El Salvador are attempting to block cellphone signals in the country's prisons, a measure that if succesfully implemented…

EL SALVADOR / 9 SEP 2013

Four gang members have been assassinated in El Salvador's first "peace zone," areas where all gang activity is supposed to…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…

THE ORGANIZATION

Backing Investigative Journalism Around the Globe

5 NOV 2021

InSight Crime was a proud supporter of this year's Global Investigative Journalism Conference, which took place November 1 through November 5 and convened nearly 2,000 journalists…