In a troubled Mexican prison, inmates rule their cells

MEXICO CITY — A violent prison break in which 30 inmates escaped and 17 people – mostly guards – were killed has revealed a shocking level of autonomy for inmates inside the prison in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. northern Mexico.

Not only were criminals able to sneak guns, drugs and luxury goods into Number 3 prison, but they actually held the keys to several areas of the facility, which is across the border from El Paso. , Texas.

Néstor Manuel Armendáriz, president of the Commission for Human Rights in the north, said: “It is clear that it is the de facto prisoners who are responsible for security and that in some cells they have keys to the common areas, like a classroom or a cafeteria”. state of Chihuahua.

Searches after Sunday’s uprising and escape revealed 10 “VIP” cells equipped with televisions and other amenities. One even had a safe full of cash. Authorities also found cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and marijuana inside the prison, and they found 14 guns just outside.

But Armendáriz said searches believed to be in 2021 have not found any of it.

Ten of those killed were prison guards who were attacked by gunmen who arrived early Sunday in armored vehicles and shot at the entrance and inside of the dormitory. Seven others died including two policemen and five suspected attackers.

The prison director was fired on Tuesday and 191 inmates deemed high risk were moved out of the overcrowded prison.

The escaped prisoners were identified as members of the Mexicles gang; the leader of the Mexicles, who is serving a sentence for murder and other crimes, is among the fugitives. The Mexicles have been one of Juarez’s main gangs for decades and are known for many years to have worked with the Sinaloa Cartel.

At the time of the escape, Prison No. 3 held 4,000 prisoners, 23% more than designed. As is common in Mexican prisons, those awaiting trial – 90% of the inmates at the Ciudad Juarez facility – are mixed with convicted criminals.

Saskia Niño de Rivera, leader of the prison reform group Reinserta, said that despite the prison’s long history of problems, authorities wanted to look the other way.

“Security is completely politicized, because prisons don’t win you political points,” said Niño de Rivera.

The issue is particularly sensitive in Ciudad Juarez, where local gangs work for drug cartels and any violence inside prisons can quickly spill onto the streets.

That happened in August when a riot inside the same state prison spread to the streets of Juarez in violence and left 11 people dead.

She said Sunday’s riot “is a clear example of what is happening in a large number of prisons in Mexico, places that are completely forgotten by the authorities and completely out of control.” .”

In 2016, 49 inmates were killed in a riot at the notorious Topo Chico prison in the northern border state of Nuevo Leon. Investigators found the prison filled with contraband and weapons. The state government finally closed it down in 2019.

Mexico has a prisoner population of about 226,000, many of whom are held in overcrowded conditions in prisons without enough guards. The problem arises from policies that allow, and in some cases require, suspects to be detained for a variety of crimes for extended periods of time before trial.


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