A federal prison that housed some of Mexico’s most powerful crime bosses will shut down, marking the end for a facility that saw everything from high-profile escapes to lavish parties with narcocorridos.
Authorities in Mexico announced September 28 that the Federal Center for Social Rehabilitation Number Two in western Jalisco State, better known as the Puente Grande prison, will close and its inmates will be transferred to other facilities.
Guards and officials employed at the prison will also be relocated across the country, according to the statement.
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Security Minister Alfonso Durazo later clarified that the shutdown was ordered because the prison was “self-governed” by the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación — CJNG).
The prison was the scene of a brawl in May of this year that left eight people dead and eight others injured, according to state authorities. In the aftermath, officials seized two firearms and an explosive device, but they did not say how the weapons entered the facility.
A year earlier, in August 2019, CJNG boss Heleno Madrigal Virrueta, alias “El 20,” was found dead in his cell. Authorities reported the death as a suicide, but other organized crime figures in the prison have died under mysterious circumstances.
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Puente Grande was infamous for housing Mexico’s cartel kingpins, but it will be remembered most for the prison break of Sinaloa Cartel capo Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo.”
A who’s who of crime bosses were incarcerated at Puente Grande, including Guadalajara Cartel kingpin Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Rafael Caro Quintero and Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO) leader Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, alias “El Mochomo.”
But it was El Chapo who bought his way out of the maximum security prison. In January 2001, he walked out of his electronically secured cell, after which someone then smuggled him out in a laundry truck. Another Sinaloa native, Dámaso López Núñez, the prison’s vice director at the time, aided his escape and eventually became a drug trafficker in his own right known as “El Licenciado.”
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In Puente Grande, guards ceded control to high-profile inmates. A 2017 video of a party thrown by CJNG operative José Luis Gutiérrez Valencia, alias “Don Chelo,” showed him surrounded by bodyguards as other prisoners danced and drank beside him. Los Buchones de Culiacán, a musical group famous for its narcocorridos, even played songs praising the CJNG boss during the celebration.
“I’m the one who rules here,” Don Chelo said, laying bare the lack of official control in the prison.
Puente Grande’s closing is likely to be a positive development given its unruly history. But the levels of corruption in Mexico’s prison system and the various legal loopholes still available to those with money mean that maximum security seldom applies to Mexico’s most notorious criminals.
*This article was updated October 2 to include comments from Security Minister Alfonso Durazo.