Authorities in Honduras are investigating whether a recently captured alleged gang member escaped from prison unnoticed by swapping his identity with another inmate, a situation that raises questions about corruption and incompetence in the country’s penitentiary system.
An alleged leader of the Barrio 18 gang, José Virgilio Sánchez Montoya, alias “Pechocho,” was captured by authorities on May 27 despite the fact that he should have been serving a 500-year sentence for alleged ties to a massacre of 17 people, reported El Heraldo.
Authorities had originally touted the incident as a case of mistaken identity. Representatives of the country’s National Prison Institute (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario – INP) insisted that Pechocho never left the El Pozo penitentiary.
“This was a capture, not a recapture … because nobody escaped from El Pozo,” German McNiel, INP deputy director, was reported by La Prensa as saying.
However, fingerprint tests confirmed the Pechocho arrested on May 27 was in fact supposed to be detained in the maximum-security El Pozo prison. Sources told La Prensa that Pechocho had escaped from El Pozo two months ago.
The INP has said that it will investigate the possibility that this was a case of identity fraud. The INP said new tests will be carried out to establish the real identity of the suspect captured on May 27 and an individual who was already serving time in El Pozo under the same name.
InSight Crime Analysis
The fact that Honduran authorities seem at a loss to explain the confusion surrounding Pechocho and his apparent escape speaks volumes about the severe problems affecting the country’s prisons.
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Authorities in Honduras have already warned that criminals have begun to exchange their names and aliases with individuals with similar physical features in order to avoid prison and operate undisturbed in the outside world. If Pechocho’s escape involved this type of identity fraud, it would indicate that even El Pozo — supposedly one of the most secure penitentiaries in the country — is vulnerable to this kind of scam.
It is also possible that corruption or simple incompetence could be part of the explanation. The extent of the dysfunction in Honduras’ prison system was put on display last month by the escape of more than 60 prisoners in just two weeks from various detention facilities.