HomeNewsBrief‘Zero Cash’ Policy in El Salvador Prisons Thwarted
BRIEF

‘Zero Cash’ Policy in El Salvador Prisons Thwarted

EL SALVADOR / 9 FEB 2016 BY ELISE DITTA EN

Salvadoran authorities' frustrated attempts to stem cash flows in prisons point to the strength of prison economies in El Salvador, and mirror concerns regarding government control of prisons across the region.

On December 18, 2015, Salvadoran authorities tweeted that a new cashless system had been successfully implemented in all of El Salvador's prisons.

The "Cero Dinero" (Zero Cash) system assigns each inmate a debit account in which family members can deposit money, according to La Prensa Grafica. Prisoners can only have $100 in their accounts at a time, and careful record is taken of who deposits money.

According to El Diario de Hoy, between February 2015 and the middle of January 2016, $9 million moved through the Cero Dinero system -- prisoners used their account numbers to purchase more than $7 million worth of food and personal care items from prison stores, and spent more than $1 million on calls from prison phones.

However, the new system has not been able to stop the flow of money and illicit goods in prisons. In a late January 2016 prison raid, authorities seized $11,000 in cash, along with more than 300 cell phones and 700 sim cards.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Cero Dinero plan is the latest in a series of measures Salvadoran authorities have implemented in order to stem illegal economies flourishing inside prisons -- including the sale of cell phones, sim cards, and drugs. The move is also linked to efforts to stop extortion rings run with cell phones from Salvadoran jails. In 2013, authorities installed prison phones that could be monitored -- and starting in 2015, inmates used the Cero Dinero system to pay for these calls.

In the past, El Salvador has tried limiting the number of visitors for prisoners, separating gang members, and blocking cell phone service to prisons. However, none of these efforts have been successful in stopping criminal economies run from prisons.

Why has this been such a difficult task? Perhaps the answer is linked to the phenomena reported in Guatemala and Mexico. According to Animal Politico, 88 percent of state prisons in Mexico do not separate prisoners who have been convicted from those who have been charged. And in Guatemala, Prensa Libre reports that 3,000 Guatemalan prisoners have finished their sentences but have not been released.

While the Salvadoran government has implemented policies to limit certain elements of the criminal economies, they have not addressed larger issues of lack of government control in prisons. Latin American prisons are also among the most overcrowded and dangerous in the world; El Salvador's prisons are particularly crowded, with a 325 percent occupancy.

The overcrowding and lack of state investment has allowed inmates to essentially control prisons and build economies important for criminal groups inside and outside prisons. 

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 / 20 JAN 2021

Given the challenges of a deadly pandemic, President Joe Biden could be forgiven for not having Central America’s security at…

EL SALVADOR / 1 JUL 2021

Multiple sources from the United States and El Salvador say the recent decision to temporarily halt the extradition of several…

CHEPE DIABLO / 25 MAY 2021

A business magnate who is an alleged leader of El Salvador’s Texis Cartel has escaped justice once again, after a…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…