El Salvador Extends Tough Prison Restrictions for One Year

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El Salvador has extended a state of emergency in seven prisons for one year, subjecting inmates to heightened security restrictions as officials look to disrupt gangs’ use of prisons as centers of operations.  

Salvadoran Vice President Óscar Ortiz announced the decision on May 17 during the ground breaking of a new temporary prison for low risk inmates, reported El Mundo. As part of the measures, inmates in the seven designated prisons will remain confined to their cells and will not be allowed visitors.

“We have seven penal centers with restricted visitation and freedom of movement, and where we’ve cut all internal communications,” said Ortiz. “This will continue for a complete year … We cannot facilitate conditions for inmates to continue engaging in criminal activity.”

A 15-day state of emergency first declared on March 29 for the seven prisons was extended several times, the most recent being on May 16 for a period of 30 days.

Additionally, El Salvador Security Minister Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde announced a government goal to reduce prison overcrowding by 50 percent. To achieve this, 10,000 low risk inmates will be relocated to temporary detention centers, while another 5,000 will be given conditional or provisional release, according to El Mundo. 

El Salvador’s prison system is currently operating at over 300 percent capacity, with over 30,000 inmates in 19 facilities.

InSight Crime Analysis

El Salvador’s prisons are important centers of gang activity, allowing members to recruit, coordinate, and continue engaging in criminal behavior. As such, Salvadoran officials’ focus on the prison system — part of a series of recently enacted “extraordinary” security measures — reflects an attempt to strike at the perceived heart of gang operations.

SEE ALSO: InDepth: Prisons

The crackdown on prisons, however, not only seeks to dismantle criminal structures operating within prisons, but also their networks of facilitators.  

This was illustrated with the recent accusations that 15 police officers from Mejicanos smuggled cell phones and drugs to incarcerated Barrio 18 gang members. Several officers, of whom 11 have been arrested, also apparently passed on information regarding upcoming raids and destroyed police records on gang members.

The discovery of such corrupt networks speaks to the level of control and infiltration gang members have achieved within El Salvador’s prison system — something officials are now struggling to break. 

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