InSight Map: Major Prison Breaks in Mexico

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In the latest of a series of prison breaks, on Monday fourteen inmates escaped from a penal center in Chihuahua, Mexico, where drug violence has led criminal syndicates like the Zetas to attempt multiple bold raids on the country’s prisons.

El Universal reports that the men escaped from Aguiles Serden penitentiary after guards were distracted by gunfire, just before an armored vehicle rammed through the outer chain-link fence on the building’s west side. The vehicle drove 80 meters to the prison’s inner wall, about 15 inches thick and made of brick, where the inmates slipped through a gap and climbed into the car.

So far the raid appears to have been mostly facilitated by poor security conditions, including a non-electrified fence just two meters high, rather than collusion with prison guards, who are typically involved in these types of escapes. The investigation, however, is ongoing. 

 Authorities did manage to recapture five of the escaped inmates Tuesday during a manhunt. Prison guards at Aguiles Serden have previously been targeted for assassination, in what could be interpreted as evidence of corruption within the prison, as the hit was likely a vengeance killing after the officials did not collaborate with inmate demands.

The Chihuahua prison is an important holding center for gang operatives arrested in Ciudad Juarez, but most inmates are first-time offenders rather than top-level traffickers. These include street dealers or ex-security detail formerly employed by the city’s many street gangs, in particular the Aztecas and their rivals the Mexicles. It is the site of frequent riots between groups of inmates, indicating that, much like Ciudad Juarez, a criminal organization has not yet consolidated control of the prison’s illicit businesses. Violence within Aguiles Serden was so severe that in November, authorities transferred 62 inmates out of the facility, prompting the state attorney general to call the detention center “a time bomb.”

It is not yet clear whether the Zetas were involved with the Chihuahua escape, but, as indicated by the map below created by InSight showing major prison busts in 2010, the Zetas seemingly masterminded some of last year’s most dramatic security breaks.

Many of the major escapes were concentrated in one facility, the Reynosa Corrections Center, known by its acronym CEDES. What this appears to emphasize is the hold that the Zetas have over the security forces in Tamaulipas. In one escape from CEDES in September, when 86 inmates used a ladder to jump a wall, this shows a high level of collaboration from corrections officers and the local police force, who do not push through with a serious manhunt.

It is not clear whether a single, powerful group in the Aguiles Serden penitentiary in Chihuahua has managed to be as effective at corrupting prison authorities as the Zetas have been in Tamaulipas. Again, as indicated by the riots and violence prevalent within Aguiles Serden, power struggles between the Juarez gangs (and probably elements of the Sinaloa Cartel as well) means that, while there is almost certainly corruption here, a single group is not dominant here in the way that Zetas appear to dominate CEDES.

As indicated by the map below, the most serious security breach in 2010 happened in December 17, when an armed commando of alleged Zetas managed to free 151 prisoners from a facility outside Nuevo Laredo.

View Prison Escapes in Mexico in a larger map

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