HomeNewsBriefVenezuela Prison Bosses Wield Power Behind Bars and On Streets
BRIEF

Venezuela Prison Bosses Wield Power Behind Bars and On Streets

MEGABANDAS / 11 NOV 2016 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

New photos show the privileged lifestyle enjoyed by Venezuela's "pranes," a reminder that these prison bosses have achieved widespread control over the country's failing penitentiary system and are now projecting their power onto the streets. 

Venezuelan journalist Pableysa Ostos of the news outlet Correo del Caroní published two photos of an infamous inmate, Franklin Paúl Hernández Quezada, alias "Franklyn Masacre." In one photo he is working out in what seems to be a well-furnished gym, while the second one suggests he also has a dog inside the prison.

This is not the first example of the control pranes have over prison facilities in Venezuela. Recent media reports suggest prison bosses could be collecting between 17 million and 20 million bolivars by implementing an extortion system in which every inmate has to pay a fee in order to have access to facilities such as bathrooms (at today's black market exchange rate, that's between $9,000 and $10,600).

The lack of government control has also allowed for repeated kidnappings of officials and the expansion of various criminal activities within the walls of Venezuela's penitenciaries. According to the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, as many as 46 prison officials were being held hostage in August this year.

InSight Crime Analysis

The criminal structures which have flourished within Venezuela's prisons are now spilling onto the streets, as the powerful pranes have extended their influence through the creation of heavily-armed and vertically-integrated gangs known as "megabandas."

At the root of the problem is the government's poor prison policy and its failure to control and regulate the country's penitentiaries and the criminality breeding within them, fed by a healthy illegal arms trafficking industry that has developed since former President Hugo Chavez took power in 1999.

While the situation offers some surprising and amusing stories of prison parties and resort-like jails, it has also contributed to the death of 1,622 people in Venezuela's penitentiary system since the inception of a government ministry to manage the prisons in 2011, which in reality manages very little. The ministry was created to reform the prisons after high numbers of jail deaths and disturbances, a problem brought to a head when prisoners of the Rodeo II prison staged a standoff against government troops when they tried to enter the prison to search for weapons.

SEE ALSO: InDepth: Prisons

In recent years, the power of the pran bosses has expanded beyond prison walls, and their criminal structures are being replicated on the outside in the form of "megabandas." This recent criminal phenomenon differs from ordinary street gangs because of their size (usually between 50 -100), activities (extortion, kidnapping, drug trafficking), their territorial control and hierarchical organizational structure. These groups, whose outside leadership is often linked to incarcerated pranes, have been growing since 2013 and wield significant firepower.

A recent InSight Crime investigation in Venezuela found that the megabandas now constitute a serious public security threat due to their array of criminal activities, and are the de facto law in swathes of territory across the country.

Megabandas also pose a threat to the government and are often involved in violent confrontations with state security forces. They represent a growing menace in a country that is suffering from a general breakdown in law and order amid a worsening economic and political crisis. A 2013 government policy aimed at neutralizing them, called peace zones (zonas de paz), has only made them stronger, and recent police and security force incursions designed to reverse that development have been deadly and heavily criticized. 

The pranes and megabandas are both powerful criminal forces created in part by erroneous government policies, and they will prove difficult, if not impossible, for the Maduro administration to resolve.

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

COLOMBIA / 26 OCT 2022

The ELN plays a continuing role in facilitating large-scale cattle smuggling between Colombia and Venezuela.

ILLEGAL MINING / 5 DEC 2022

The discovery of mass graves in Bolívar, Venezuela, has revealed how criminals control illegal mining through violence and murder.

COLOMBIA / 2 SEP 2021

The Urabeños, one of Colombia's dominant drug groups, are seemingly ramping up operations along the Colombia-Venezuela border – a gambit…

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…