The shuttering of a state prison in Mexico is an unconventional response by officials trying to combat poor living conditions for inmates but this will do little to address fundamental problems in the country’s penitentiaries.
The facility in Temascaltepec, State of Mexico, was permanently closed this week due to security failures and a lack of basic resources, according to a statement from the state’s security secretary.
The prison reportedly did not have adequate health and education services or sufficient recreational areas for inmates. Without these services, the state government considered that prisoners did not enjoy adequate living conditions but also lacked access to the services needed to help them transition back into society.
Officials also said they were unable to provide adequate security to maintain order within the prison. While it is unclear how violent it became inside, a good indicator might be that the prison lacked “disciplinary areas” where inmates were supposed to be held after breaking the rules, according to a 2019 report from the Mexico State Commission on Human Rights.
The report also included the prison on its list of state facilities suffering from overpopulation.
The 164 inmates are being transferred to other facilities in the state of Mexico, including in Valle de Bravo and Almoloya de Juárez. The recently opened Tenancingo del Sur prison, which was reportedly constructed with an emphasis on social programs in line with United Nations prisons standards, will also be taking some of the inmates.
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While acknowledging that the Temascaltepec prison did not offer the right conditions is a positive step, closing it permanently may be counterintuitive to long-term progress. Instead, it worsens the burden on other prisons and does little to address nationwide structural flaws.
The Mexican prison system has been characterized as understaffed, with poor sanitary conditions and a lack of “opportunities for inmates to develop the skills necessary for social reintegration,” according to the 2020 United States Country Report on Human Rights.
Nearly half of all prisons in Mexico suffer from overcrowding – sharing a cell with five or more people – and thirteen percent share a cell with more than fifteen, according to the report.
The State of Mexico is no exception. Temascaltepec prison was one of a number of facilities identified by Mexico’s Commission on Human Rights as having issues with overcrowding, security and basic resources. This was despite the fact that many of the prisons listed were temporarily closed for reforms in the early 2010s.
“There is no use in having fewer prisons but the same or greater population of people deprived of their freedom. This situation only allows for more human rights violations,” ASILEGAL, a prisoners advocacy group in Mexico, wrote in an October 2020 statement.
Finally, an investigation by Milenio last year found that the government had invested over $2 million over 14 years into the infrastructure and security of six prisons around the country, only for them to close anyway, or become inactive.