El Salvador Transfers 1,000 Inmates to Break Up New Gang

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Authorities in El Salvador have transferred more than 1,000 inmates in an attempt to stabilize some of the country’s violent, overcrowded prisons following the death of nine inmates earlier this month.

La Prensa Grafica reports that authorities moved suspected members of a new prison gang, Mara Desorden, in order to prevent a massive break-out they were planning. According to prison director Douglas Moreno, the group is made up of former members of the country’s two biggest gangs — these are the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13).

El Salvador’s minister of justice and public security, David Munguia Payes, said those who were moved may also have been preparing a preemptive strike on another group of prisoners.

InSight Crime Analysis

In an attempt to stem rising violence, El Salvador authorities have taken the “mano dura,” or “iron fist,” approach to security, which involves mass incarcerations of suspected gang members. This, however, had unintended consequences: gangs have taken advantage of the security offered by prisons to regroup and expand their operations.

If prison authorities are correct in saying that former members of the Barrio 18 and MS-13 have joined together to form a new gang, this would undermine conventional wisdom that the two groups are locked in a vicious war.

With more than 25,000 jammed into the country’s facilities, which were designed to hold 8,000, El Salvador’s prisons are holding three times their capacity. Transfering inmates between prisons is not likely to improve security in the long term.

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