MEXICO CITY — Cases of violence and inmates controlling Mexican prisons are on the rise, symptoms of the corruption and lack of resources that plague the country’s corrections system, the National Human Rights Commission said today.
Riots, homicides, prison breaks and other incidents have increased from 52 for all of 2011 to 119 through mid-October of this year, commission President Raul Plascencia said in releasing the report.
The report, based on visits and interviews at 101 of Mexico’s most populated prisons, found that 65 of the facilities are run by inmates, not authorities. That’s an increase from the commission’s report last year, which said 60 of 100 prisons surveyed were run by inmates.
“We’re finding a dynamic that we’ve been decrying for years now,” Plascencia said. “The government puts much force into fighting organized crime, as it should. But it doesn’t take care of the places where they incarcerate the members of organized crime, who are corrupting and taking control.”
Federal government security spokesman Eduardo Sanchez did not respond to several requests for comment.
But Sanchez said in a September meeting with foreign journalists that prison breaks and prisoners controlling facilities have become a thing of the past since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office last Dec. 1.
“A good part of the jails were controlled by inmates,” he said, referring to the previous administration of former President Felipe Calderon. “That no longer occurs.”
The human rights commission said that not only do such problems continue, inmate deaths and injuries combined have increased this year, though escapes are down from 261 last year to 67 through mid-October. Plascencia said the prisons controlled by inmates are in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa and Zacatecas, all states heavily affected by drug violence.
The report said 109 prisoners died in 119 incidents so far this year and 224 were injured. In 73 incidents during all of last year, 154 prisoners died and 103 were injured. It did not give a breakdown of the types of incidents.
The report was based on interviews and visits to prisons that house 80 percent of Mexico’s nearly 250,000 inmates. The overcrowded system has an official capacity of 200,000.
Calderon stepped up the offensive against organized crime when he took office in late 2006, with military and police crackdowns that resulted in thousands of arrests but no new prisons. Many of Mexico’s facilities became overcrowded, and inmates accused of drug crimes were mixed with locals accused of petty crimes.
Fights among rival cartels are not uncommon, and cartel members sometimes enter prisons to facilitate breakouts. It’s also not unusual for prison directors and guards to be fired or arrested after such incidents, charged with colluding with the criminals.
In one of the worst incidents in 25 years, 44 inmates died in a prison massacre in February 2012 in the northern state of Nuevo Leon. After the incident, three top prison officials and 26 guards were accused of helping inmates escape in the confusion.
Earlier this month, six inmates died in a prison fight in the city of Reynosa in Tamaulipas state across the border from Texas.
In late October, seven inmates were killed with makeshift knives in a fight in one cellblock in the coastal city of Altamira, also in Tamaulipas. Thirty-one prisoners died in a riot at the same prison early last year.