10/21/11—On Thursday, October 20, 543 prisoners convicted of federal crimes were transferred to Islas Marías penal colony to relieve overcrowded prisons in Baja California. The federal prison colony is located on the largest island of the four Marías islands 70 miles off Mexico’s southern pacific coast. In response to the transfer, a riot of at least 50 inmates broke out in a Mexicali prison. The situation was controlled by the authorities within 30 minutes. An additional 37 inmates from Guanajuato’s prison system, 3 of which were women, were transferred to the Islas Marías on October 19, reported Milenio.
The decision to transfer the large number of Baja California prisoners was made at the Sixth National Conference of the Prison System (VI Conferencia Nacional del Sistema Penitenciario) on October 17 in Tijuana, said the Secretary of Public Security (Secretario de Seguridad Pública del Estado, SSPE). Authorities noted that high caliber security measures were used during the transfer of the 543 prisoners to ensure public security and to protect the human rights and dignities of the inmates throughout the process. The transfer was carried out by the State Preventative Police (Policía Estatal Preventiva, PEP), prison security guards, agents from the Transfer Unit (Unidad de Traslados), and troops from the Public Security Forces of the State (Fuerzas de Seguridad Pública del Estado, FSPE). The inmates’ family can request information on the status of their family members at the prison from Technical Department (Dirección Técnica), said the SSPE.
Transfering prisoners to Islas Marías is often the attempted solution to address overcrowded prisons in Mexico and subsequently to decrease the risk of fighting among inmates. Last August, 126 inmates were transfered to Islas Marías, while in June of this year an additional 700 inmates from Chihuahua State prisons were also relocated to the islands.
Island penal colonies are controversial due to their harsh conditions. According to the Los Angeles Times, since the 1700s, “escape proof” island penal colonies have been used to rehabilitate prisoners through tough labor. In 1986, Peru’s prison colony ended when gunboats blew up buildings to stop a riot killing 100 inmates. Penal colonies have shut down all over the world, including the colonies in Chile and Costa Rica. In 2005, 80% of the prisoners at Islas Marías penal colony were returned to the mainland as the prison was closing down. In December of 2005, according to the Los Angeles Times, Secretary of Public Safety Ramon Huerta said, “Given the problems of overcrowding, under-funding and corruption, we have to urgently restructure the country’s prison system. The first step will be to revive the Islas Marías penal colony.” Since then, only more and more prisoners have been relocated.