Nelson Rauda Portillo,  Director General of DGCP

An investigation by El Faro has revealed that the head of El Salvador's penitentiary system likely used his position to ensure favorable treatment for his incarcerated brother-in-law, as thousands of inmates who aren't so well-connected languish in the country's overpopulated, poorly run prisons.

According to El Faro, the brother-in-law of Nelson Rauda Portillo, the Director of the General Office of Penal Centers (DGCP), began serving a six-year sentence for drug possession in April of 2010. (El Faro did not reveal his name for security reasons.) Just two years later, he has already moved to the "Trusted Stage," during which prisoners are given privileges such as commuted sentences and exit permits, the online media source says.

While legally all prisoners are eligible, in practice the stage only applies to a privileged few, especially with regards to male inmates: out of the 24,353 men incarcerated as of November 26, only 374 had reached the "Trusted Stage," El Faro says. It's not illegal for Rauda's brother-in-law to have already been granted this privilege without completing even half his sentence, but the anonymous official sources consulted by El Faro all agreed that it would be impossible without some special maneuvering.

InSight Crime Analysis

The real issue is not so much Rauda's brother-in-law's favorable treatment in and of itself -- which, while unfair, does not appear to have violated any laws -- but rather the chaotic, arbitrary nature of El Salvador's penal system. The violence and high degree of gang control in Latin America's most overcrowded prison system are well-documented, but the heart of the problem is the failure of the country's penal and judicial institutions to deal fairly with all their inmates.

El Salvador's constitution, for instance, stipulates that prisoners must be regularly evaluated in order to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior, with rehabilitation as the end goal. Inmates are supposed to be evaluated every six months by DGCP "technical teams" made up of psychologists, doctors, lawyers, and other qualified professionals, who then pass their recommendations on to regional criminological councils.

In practice however, officials from the government's Ombudsman for Human Rights (PDDH) say that corruption is high within the DGCP, that the process is implemented arbitrarily, and that thousands of prisoners go years without receiving evaluations.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...