Mexico’s Prisoners Face Extortion Fees to Live: Report

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Prisoners in Mexico are paying enormous fees for essential needs and physical security, a news report says, highlighting the role of prisons in fueling illegal markets, corruption, and organized crime.

Mexican prisoners are paying between $150 and $300 per month for basic services to survive throughout their sentences, according to the BBC. In order to receive essential human needs, including drinking water and bathing, as well as protection, prisoners across Mexico pay fees to prison guards, officials and other prisoners.

In order to have a place to sleep and a blanket, for example, prisoners pay around $6. Prisoners also have to pay for every change of their sanctioned uniforms — around $1.20 for each set. And in some prisons, inmates pay around $20 per day just to be counted on the official attendance list.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Communication with the outside world is also costly and difficult, as there are fees for phone cards as well as having a cellular phone, which can cost between $90 and $121. Additionally, families have to pay for visits, including individual fees for every door they pass through.

The profits from such fees are allegedly passed upwards to high-level officials, reported the BBC, although government officials deny this level of corruption.

InSight Crime Analysis

The high living expenses for inmates in Mexico reveal the poor conditions and systemic corruption that plagues prisons across Latin America.

The fees demanded for basic necessities and security have created complex and profitable prison economies that involve both officials and criminals alike. These payments, for instance, implicate officials throughout the prison system in illegal markets and extortion.

Concerns about corruption within Mexico’s prison system has grown recently following the arrest of Celina Oseguera Parra, the former head of federal prisons, and subsequent allegations connecting top officials to the incredible escape of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman from a maximum security prison earlier this year.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Prisons

These fees also propel the activities of criminal organizations within and beyond the prison walls. According to a recent report from Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights (pdf), approximately 70 percent of Mexico’s prisons are “self-governed” by gangs and cartels, an illicit system repeated across the region. The authority and profits gained through prison fees strengthen criminal organizations’ structures within the prisons and fuel their forces in the outside world.

As the BBC notes, the burden of prison fees often falls on the families of inmates. Such families, often already in socially and economically precarious positions, may be pushed further into poverty and possibly even organized crime by this system of prison extortions and predatory criminal activity. 

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