Mexico to Build 2 Private Prisons by Year-End

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Mexico will open two privately run prisons by the end of the year in an effort to relieve pressure on its overburdened penal system, but privatization is unlikely to solve problems of corruption and human rights abuses.

According to a Bloomberg report, Mexico will open two privately run prisons later this year in an attempt to ease the pressure on its overcrowded and underfunded penal system.

Mexican construction firms Homex and ICA have been contracted to build the prisons. International private prison companies have been hesitant to join the bidding, due to the high levels of violence and cartel infiltration in Mexico’s prisons, reported Bloomberg.

The government will retain control of prison security, but pay private companies to build the prison facilities and oversee the administration of food, laundry, medical care, and maintenance, reported Animal Politico.

President Felipe Calderon has promoted private prisons as a way to increase inmate capacity and to cut government costs, saying that outsourcing to private companies would reduce costs by 29 percent and increase capacity by 30 percent. President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto has also endorsed the initiative.

InSight Crime Analysis

Mexican prisons are rife with corruption, abuse, and rampant overcrowding, with the system currently operating at 25 percent overcapacity. In recent months, a number of violent incidents have highlighted the dysfunctionality of the current penal system. In January, a riot at a prison in Tamaulipas that was 150 percent overcapacity resulted in the deaths of 31 inmates. The following month, in the latest of numerous instances of collusion between prison officials and criminal gangs, 30 members of the Zetas killed 44 other prisoners before escaping from Apodaca prison in Nuevo Leon.

While offloading the cost of building new prisons onto private companies may help the Mexican government expand the penal system’s capacity, companies don’t have an incentive to decrease the inmate population, as law Professor Catalina Perez Correa has noted. In fact, it would be in their interest to increase the number of prisoners in order to drive up profits.

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that privately-run prisons would be any less prone to corruption. While private companies may take control of the construction and administration of some prisons, the Mexican government will still be in charge of actually guarding the prisoners. Without significant institutional reforms, such as improving the guards’ incentives against corruption, tightening the vetting process, and better protecting guards under threat from prisoners, it is unlikely Mexico’s penal system will improve a great deal in the near future.

Human rights groups have criticized Mexico’s move toward private prisons, arguing that turning corrections over to companies allows the government to put off reforming the penal system and to avoid taking responsibility for human rights violations that occur within prisons.

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