Inmates in Mexico’s corrections system have been effectively abandoned by the government, a crisis reflected in frequent breakouts and fights and “self-governance” by prison gangs, the independent National Human Rights Commission said.
The panel’s findings were contained in the 2011 National Penitentiary Supervision Diagnosis, a report based on inspections of the country’s 100 most populated prisons.
“The country’s penitentiaries are experiencing a very delicate crisis stemming from a lack of adequate public policy and - it most also be said - the scant interest this problem awakens in society,” precisely due to the harm that criminal activity has caused innocent people, commission chairman Raul Plascencia said.
Conflict among drug cartels and between criminals and the security forces have claimed some 60,000 lives in Mexico since December 2006, when newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderon militarized the struggle against the drug trade.
Besides pursuing their underworld vendettas, gunmen employed by the cartels also engage in kidnapping, extortion and robbery.
In outlining the study’s findings, Plascencia stressed that “the government has spent enormous sums combating crime and detaining criminals, but practically abandons the inmate once he is in prison.”
He said the commission’s staff confirmed that authorities’ control of penitentiaries has been weakened by self-governance and co-governance, in which prison security, activities and services are being managed by groups of inmates.
Plascencia said overcrowding is a persistent problem in the prisons examined for the report, most of which lack programs to prevent and respond to violent incidents.
Between 2010 and the present, the commission documented 14 prison breaks, in which a total of 521 inmates escaped; 75 fights that left 352 dead; and two prison riots that resulted in two people killed and 32 injured.
On Sept. 17, more than 100 inmates escaped from a prison in the northern Mexican border city of Piedras Negras by walking out through the main gate.
That prison break was the biggest in Mexico since Dec. 17, 2010, when 141 inmates escaped from a penitentiary in Nuevo Laredo, a border city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
According to Plascencia, the country’s prisons also do not provide inmates with work, training, educational or sporting activities, thus impeding the goal of integrating ex-prisoners back into society.
“No public safety policy will yield (the desired) results if the situation that exists inside the prisons is not addressed and corrected,” the report said.