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Why Mega-Prisons Holding Tens of Thousands Won’t Make a Difference

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A mixture of heavy-handed government policies, a lack of funding, and corruption has led to Latin America’s prisons being overcrowded hotbeds of violence and incubators for criminal activity. Mega-prisons, housing tens of thousands of prisoners in one spot, only seem to make things worse.

In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele’s gang crackdown, which has led to the imprisonment of over 57,000 suspected gang members, has stretched the country’s prisons to breaking point. Part of the plan to relieve this is the building of a new gigantic facility, which will open in early 2023.

Meanwhile, in Ecuador where prison massacres have become all too commonplace, President Guillermo Lasso has re-opened an insalubrious former prison as part of his plan to contain the violence.

But with overcrowding in prisons across the region at close to 200%, these mega-prisons are unlikely to improve the situation.

InSight Crime looked at four of Latin America’s largest penitentiaries, which have either failed or may be about to, to offer a window into the challenges for prison reform.

Terrorism Confinement Center, Tecoluca, El Salvador

When completed in early 2023, the center will house 40,000 inmates as announced by President Nayib Bukele on Twitter in June 2022.

SEE ALSO: Peru, Chile Prisons May Struggle to Contain Tren de Aragua

In El Salvador, mass incarcerations and tougher laws against alleged gang members lead to more prison overcrowding. Since the implementation of the emergency rule in March, the police and army have arrested more than 57,000 suspected gang members, adding to the more than 16,000 that were already incarcerated. Two percent of the adult population is now behind bars.

Bukele’s heavy-handed policy has brought with it other consequences. These include the emergence of new illegal economies, like the extortion of inmates’ relatives, as the impoverished country struggles to provide basic necessities for the growing number of prisoners. There is no sign Tecoluca will solve that.

Worse, it will actually bring an entirely new problem: It is so large it poses a threat to the environment.

Litoral Penitentiary, Guayaquil, Ecuador

The largest prison in Ecuador is officially called Centro de Rehabilitación Social de Varones N. 1 de Guayaquil. It was opened in 1958 with space for 1,500 inmates. In 2021, the prison had 8,000 inmates crammed within its walls.

Various violent events have marked the prison’s history. In 2021, two massacres left 190 dead as gangs sought power. In November 2022, a wave of violence occurred after leaders of the Lobos and the Tiguerones, two of the country’s foremost criminal gangs, were transferred between prisons.

SEE ALSO: Transfers of Gang Leaders Focus Points for Ecuador’s Prison Violence

Harsh anti-drug policies have contributed to overcrowding in Ecuador. Pervasive corruption within the prison system fosters criminal gang governance, while the model of exchanging information for prisoner privileges allegedly employed by authorities in the country promotes gang violence and places control of the penitentiary into the hands of inmates. 

In the face of these problems, transferring prisoners accused of participating in riots to smaller centers such as La Roca, a maximum security prison in Guayaquil, has not brought stability to the prisons.

Carandiru, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Officially named La Casa de Detención de Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo Detention House), Carandiru was built as a “model prison” following the rules of the Republican Penal Code of 1890. It became the largest in South America, housing more than 8,000 inmates, almost three times its official capacity in the 1990s.

An ambitious expansion worsened the security situation in the prison and sparked a series of riots. Authorities reacted — extremely harshly — and events culminated in 1992’s Carandiru massacre, where Sao Paulo Military Police killed at least 111 inmates.

The Carandiru massacre was the consequence of the prison’s shortcomings. These included inhumane confinement conditions, Sao Paulo police’s “Atira primeiro e pergunta depois” (shoot first, ask questions later) approach, and the tightening of anti-gang laws that further increased the already massive prison population.

Rather than being a “model prison,” the riots and demands for justice by inmates at Carandiru directly led to the creation of criminal organizations, including the First Capital Command (Primer Comando da Capital – PCC), one of the most influential gangs in Brazil and regionally. Carandiru reflected the country’s failed prison system and remains a reminder well after its closure in 2002.

Lurigancho Prison, Lima, Peru

Lurigancho Prison, also known as El Frontón, is Peru’s most densely populated prison. In 2019, it held 7,650 inmates — triple its intended capacity and one-quarter of Peru’s total prison population. The prison was inaugurated in 1974 to overcome historical trends of punishment and repression within the penitentiary system. It failed.

In 1986, three prison riots took place simultaneously across the country, including Lurigancho, as inmates demanded better conditions and protested the transfer of prisoners from the historic and now defunct criminal organization, the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, or Militarizado Partido Comunista de Peru – MPCP). The riots left 300 dead, including 124 in Lurigancho.

Control of the country’s prisons was handed over to the Republican Guard (now the National Police) as a consequence. It was not until 2017 that control was handed over to the National Penitentiary Institute (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario – INPE).

Lurigancho prison has been the scene of riots, murders, and multiple human rights violations. It has fostered a varied illicit market for weapons and drugs. Despite attempts to improve the prison environment, overcrowding represents the major ongoing problem facing Peru’s penitentiary system. 

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Guatemalan court approves sending detained renowned journalist to trial

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GUATEMALA CITY, Dec 8 (Reuters) – A Guatemalan court decided on Thursday to take to trial a case against a well-known Guatemalan journalist who was arrested four months ago on charges of money laundering, influence peddling and blackmail.

Jose Ruben Zamora Marroquin, an outspoken government critic, was detained in late July after a police raid on his home and will now remain in prison until the trial begins.

Prosecutors have repeatedly denied the journalist’s claims that his detention is a “political persecution.”

Zamora, 65, is the founder of the elPeriodico newspaper, an outlet famous for investigations into government corruption. The paper has laid off 80 percent of its staff and moved to online-only publication since his arrest.

“My best-case scenario is to get out of prison on January 14, 2024, when (President) Giammattei hands over the presidency,” Zamora told reporters during the hearing.

“I have patience and the truth with me,” said Zamora, seen handcuffed and visibly distressed.

His arrest came amid a crackdown on prosecutors, judges, human rights activists, journalists and opposition officials.

Members of the Inter-American Press Association, a regional organization dedicated to press freedom has demanded the journalist’s release and attended the hearing, overseen by Judge Freddy Orellana. (Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Isabel Woodford; Editing by Bradley Perrett)


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DPP appeals dismissal of perjury case against cop

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Sergeant Marley Sebastien

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has filed an appeal following the dismissal of the criminal matter against police officer Marley Sebastien.

Sebastien, who has been a police officer for more than 18 years and was part of former Premier Andrew Fahie’s security detail, was previously charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice

The matter was dismissed in the Magistrate’s Court by Magistrate Khadeen Palmer earlier this week for want of prosecution after repeated requests were made of the prosecution to produce a transcript of Sebastien’s testimony given in a High Court trial earlier this year. 

The Court was reportedly informed that the prosecution had only recently acquired the transcript, therefore Sebastien’s attorney, Valston Graham, moved that the matter be dismissed after he argued that the charges were filed without any foundation.

According to the appeal which was filed on Tuesday, the DPP is contending that the decision by the learned magistrate to dismiss the matter is unreasonable.

The DPP further sought leave to amend the grounds of the appeal as and when the record of appeal becomes available. 

Background

The charges were first brought against Sebastien after he allegedly gave contradictory evidence to his sworn testimony when he testified in the second of two trials against two former accused police officers.

Sebastien was a witness in the matter of the Queen vs Pamphill Prevost and Simon Power; both of whom were interdicted police officers at the time, charged with theft and conspiracy to steal. 

Prevost and Power were first on trial in 2019. However, that trial resulted in a mistrial as the jury could not agree on the verdict. The retrial commenced on February 1, 2022 and ended a month later with the acquittal of the officers after a no-case submission by the defence.

Copyright 2022 BVI News, Media Expressions Limited. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.


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Former Shropshire police officer found guilty of perverting the course of justice

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A former West Mercia police officer, who was previously based in Shropshire, has today been found guilty of perverting the course of justice.

Rhett Wilson appeared at Worcester Crown Court this week. He had previously pleaded guilty to three police corruption offences and resigned from West Mercia Police in July 2020.

The charges related to an internal investigation by the West Mercia Police Professional Standards Department, following information that Wilson was abusing his position for sexual gain.  The offences took place from December 2019 – March 2020.

Deputy Chief Constable Alex Murray said: “This is corruption plain and simple. Rhett Wilson abused his position to start relationships; something police officers should never do.  There is no place for this behaviour in West Mercia Police or any other force. It will not be tolerated and we will take immediate action against any officer who abuses their power.”

The incident was referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). Internal misconduct proceedings will now take place.

Wilson is due to be sentenced on Friday 20 January 2023.




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