Tocorón prison, Venezuela

A newspaper investigation exposed how a prison in Venezuela has become a thriving marketplace for the basic goods in short supply throughout the country, a brazen display of how prison crime bosses are increasingly projecting their power outside the penitentiary system.

El Nacional has revealed that many residents in Aragua state have taken to visiting Tocorón prison to do their shopping amid mass shortages of food and essential goods nationwide.

The newspaper describes how the prison's passageways have become an open market, with vendors selling everything from shampoo to cheese to visiting family members of prisoners and others there simply to buy groceries.

According to El Nacional, most of the merchandise is brought into the prison by hijackers who rob trucks on the outside, and who maintain relations with the prison "Pran" -- the inmate who runs the prison as a criminal fiefdom.

Other prison-sourced products come from community associations set up by the government to distribute goods during the chronic shortages, known as Local Supply and Production Committees (Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Produccion). Prisoners intimidate these association members into sending them supplies, according to El Nacional.

Each of the vendors must pay the Pran a hefty fee to operate, reported El Nacional, but can nevertheless bring in lucrative profits. Some are not even prisoners, but like their customers are allowed easy access to the prison due to official corruption. Guards are paid to allow them to enter without so much as registering their names and identification numbers, according to El Nacional.

InSight Crime Analysis

Many of Venezuela's prisons are essentially prisoner-run facilities, with the power of the authorities not extending much further inward than the perimeter walls. Tocorón is one of the most extreme examples of this; in addition to the new market places, there is also a nightclub, swimming pool, and a prisoner "bank," according to media investigations.

Such prisons are domains of the Pranes. These prisoners have risen to the top of the inmate hierarchy to run lucrative economies within the prisons, charge other inmates "taxes," regulate prison life and maintain some semblance of order, often via the use of brutal violence.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Prisons

In recent years, there have been growing signs the Pranes have begun to extend their reach outside of the prison system, using the prisons as a base for running drug sales, extortion and kidnapping networks.

The fact that at least one Pran has turned a prison into a contraband market place for the general population confirms their influence reaches beyond the prison walls. In addition, it demonstrates how the current economic and security chaos of Venezuela has created ideal conditions for organized crime to flourish, and how criminal networks are exploiting the gaps left by a government focused on little more than political survival.

Investigations

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

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

In May 2011, a 26-year-old prison gang leader held 4,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces, backed by tanks and helicopters, at bay for weeks. Humiliated nationally and internationally, it pushed President Hugo Chávez into a different and disastrous approach to the prison system.

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...