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
Prev Next

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...

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...

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...

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...

'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...

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla -- a decorated war hero and a longtime US ally -- finds himself treading water amidst a flurry of accusations about corruption and his connections to drug traffickers. López Bonilla is not the most well-known suspect in the cases against...