Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Prisons Overflowing

El Universal had a cover story yesterday on the lack of capacity in Mexico's prisons, and some of the numbers are indeed worrying: Mexico has roughly 227,000 people in prison in 429 facilities, with an estimated prisoner population surplus of 54,000. In other words, close to 25 percent above capacity. The government's strategy has been two-fold: one, a sizable relocation of prisoners so as to alleviate the problem as much as possible, presumably by spreading it as thin as possible across many possible detention centers; and two, building more prisons. The latter is an obvious necessity, but the article points only to a prison to be opened in Veracruz in 2012 that will house some 3,000 high-security prisoners, which is great, but it amounts to less than 2 percent of the total prison population. The government committed itself to building 12 new prisons in with the National Security Agreement signed in December of 2008, which would have been a good start (though it wouldn't have addressed corruption among the prison staff), but then late last year reports started to leak out that signed agreement or not, the new prisons weren't in the cards.

This is one area where Calderón deserves to be knocked for his lack of foresight. It was obvious in December 2006 that an increase in the pursuit of drug traffickers would lead to an increase of prisoners, and the system was already overloaded then, yet no serious plans for improvement or expansion were made. And there is no question that the situation in Mexico's prisons is now desperate, with scores of people murdered in prison yard riots and massacres and hundreds of people escaped (including three mass escapes), and the government does little more than arrest the corrupt jailers after the worst incidents, which is fine, but isn't to be confused with actually addressing the problem.

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