Honduras Hails ‘Mano Dura’ Success as Prison Economy Flourishes

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Honduras’ new government has lauded increased arrests and drug seizures under the new president’s hardline security policy, although reports that the country’s prisons generate $180 million in illegal annual earnings serve as a reminder of the negative effects filling prisons can have.

According to Honduran security forces, the first ten days of Operation Morazan — a security crackdown announced by President Juan Orlando Hernandez at his January 27 inauguration — have produced more than 200 arrests, the dismantling of criminal groups, and the seizure of over two tons of cocaine and numerous weapons, reported La Tribuna.

However, while Honduras continues to round up suspected criminals, the director of the country’s Transitional Commission for Prison Centers, Jose Augusto Avila, has reported that organized crime in the country’s severely overcrowded prisons is making around $180 million annually, or nearly $500,000 per day. According to the official, profits were generated from drug trafficking, extortion and bank robberies, all coordinated from prison using cell phones, reported La Prensa.

Over 13,000 inmates are held in Honduras’ 24 prisons, which have a capacity of just 8,000. More than 50 percent of these are being held in preventive detention, according to La Prensa.

InSight Crime Analysis

Hernandez’s successful presidential campaign was built upon a pledge to implement so-called “mano dura” (iron fist) security policies to combat the country’s rampant violence — which has seen it emerge in recent years to be considered the most dangerous country in the world outside a war zone. While such policies, which make extensive use of incarceration, have been commonly used in violence-plagued Central America, there is significant evidence to suggest they have failed to diminsh violence and actually bolstered criminal gangs. In the context of Honduras’ already-flourishing prison economies, Hernandez’s focus on arrests raises concerns that he may wind up creating a bigger problem in the long run.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Prisons

Institutional weaknesses in regional prison systems facilitate inmate control over the internal dynamics of the jails, making them breeding grounds for criminal activity. The extensive use of pre-trial detention also means many inmates, who may be minor offenders or even innocent, mix with and are influenced by hardened criminals.

The use of cell phones to extort money is a common criminal tactic used by prisoners throughout the region, while prison economies are also fed by internal dynamics — such as prisoners extorting each other — and corruption among guards.

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