Mexican prisons: over 500 riots per year

Alexis Ortiz
Mexican prisons: over 500 riots per year
44 conflicts were registered until March 2019 - Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

Mexican prisons: over 500 riots per year

Alexis Ortiz
Mexico City
-A +A
Since 2011, at least 500 riots per year have been registered in state and federal prisons in Mexico. It is a problem authorities have been unable to control and that has left tens dead and injured

Leer en español

Since 2011, at least 500 riots per year have been registered in state and federal prisons in Mexico. It is a problem authorities have been unable to attend completely and that has left tens dead and injured in the country.

The disputes that took place two weeks ago at a Morelos prison, where seven were killed and another four were injured, evidenced authorities’ incapacity to control conflicts inside prisons.

Likewise, it showed the power of the alleged criminal organizations operating inside penitentiary facilities that were able to disarm and subdue security guards.

Data from the monthly books of national penitentiary statistics information, processed by Documenta organization, warn that, between 2011 and 2018, there were 7,359 riots, in addition to the 44 conflicts registered until March 2019.

Have you heard of the fire in Mexico City's prison?

Official information reveals that disputes between inmates and security guards have a downward trend although in some cases they keep causing alarm among the population. One of the most recent violent cases was the attack of over 50 inmates of the Aguaruto prison in Culiacán, Sinaloa, against security guards in order to escape.

The states that have registered a higher number of riots since 2011 are Baja California (991), Sonora (746), Nayarit (687), Veracruz (514), Jalisco (438), Tamaulipas (408), Oaxaca (381), Puebla (371), Guanajuato (369), and Chihuahua (339).

In monitoring made by EL UNIVERSAL, it was detected that one of the most common measures to prevent these situations is to transfer inmates to other prisons, however, this has not prevented other riots from happening.

The same numbers in the penitentiary books show that riots are not the only problem in prisons, for violence is expressed in different ways. Aggressions against third parties represent the most serious situation in prisons due to their exponential growth: in 2011, there were 40 cases; in 2018, there were 687.

Regarding homicides, the Decentralized Administrative Organism for Prevention and Social Readaptation – agency in charge of elaborating the monthly books – only revealed a registry of 304 cases in the last eight years.

This issue was addressed by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in previous days, when it presented its 2019 National Diagnosis on Penitentiary Supervision, in which it asserted that there is a 48% deficiency in prisons regarding the prevention of violent incidents, 72% of lack of staff, and 40% of illegal activities.

The head of CNDH, Luis Raúl González Pérez, highlighted the current conditions of the 17 penitentiary federal centers in the country since 16 of them lack staff.

The organism added that “if [irregularities] are not looked after and addressed as needed, they can be a source of insecurity, violence, corruption, and impunity,” just as happens with riots.

Have you heard of Mexico's infamous Topo Chico prison?

Overcrowding and self-governance, the origin
Experts in prison systems agree that self-governance, overcrowding, and the lack of security staff are the origins of riots.

“Riots are linked to the presence of organized crime in prisons. Some of them control the prison and there will always be someone who wants to overthrow them with disputes; likewise, others incur in extortions or attack inmates, which causes discontent and fights,” said Martín Gabriel Barrón Cruz, professor and researcher of the National Institute of Criminal Sciences (Inacipe).

The expert warned that “this is a serious problem. Prisons have become a time bomb for the inhuman conditions.

“Given the conditions and the presence of criminal organizations focused on drug trafficking, there are many problems. This happens in Ciudad Juárez with gangs like La Línea and Artistas Asesinos.”

Likewise, he said that police abuse is another reason why inmates can cause violence, for their rights are violated by the authorities themselves.

Have you heard of the gang clash in Morelos prison?

For her part, María Novoa, coordinator of the Evalúa Mexico Justice Program, pointed out that in recent months they have observed the persistence of “vices and corruption,” besides ungovernability.

She asserted that riots take place mainly in prisons like the one in Morelos, where seven inmates died some weeks ago: “We see a serious problem of ungovernability in prisons,” she said.

She rejected the measures taken by some authorities to eradicate riots, which consist of transferring inmates to other prisons: “Transfers are done even from state to federal prisons, because they are less crowded, but it is certainly not legal, and even less when the transfers mean moving inmates away from where they can see their relatives.”

She thinks a possible solution is to identify the groups that are involved in the riots and to separate them since it can be a problem that is not generalized in a whole prison.

Lastly, Novoa poses the need to strengthen the institutions in charge of the prison system and to “abandon null development.”

“It is necessary to make public policies in prisons; to have enough trained staff as guardians; to improve the conditions to reduce violence levels between inmates and, above all, to have program of social reintegration inside the prison; there is no need to wait for people to finish their sentences to address it, “ she said.

Did you know 27 suspected cartel members were freed in Mexico City?


Mantente al día con el boletín de El Universal