Transparency & accountability

Prisons Continue Failing at Keeping Criminals In

02/04/11 – As Mexican authorities try harder and harder to catch drug traffickers, they find it even harder to keep them in prison.  The problem here is that thousands of federal prisoners, consisting of drug lords and murderers, are being held in overcrowded, underfunded, poorly guarded state institutions, some of which are under the control of criminal gangs.  Underpaid prison guards are easily bribed and face continued threats from gang members if they do not comply with their demands.  These conditions have allowed criminals to escape by using elaborate tactics while others have merely walked out of the prisons.  Most recently on January 17 in the northern state of Chihuahua, more than a dozen inmates escaped when their criminal group members opened fire on guards and smashed a truck through the perimeter fence.

One of the biggest and most surprising escapes to have ever occurred in Mexican history took place mid December of 2010 in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, located in the state of Tamaulipas.  Eye witnesses say that 153 prisoners walked calmly past guards and rode away in a yellow school bus.  According to the prison’s interim director, Rebeca Nicasio, “all 43 of the guards and supervisors on duty during the escape are behind bars, awaiting trial in the same prison where they had worked.”  The prison director in charge at the time of the escape, who is still missing, is suspected of running off with the criminals or of having been killed.  To this day none of these fugitives have been caught.  A similar incident occurred in another prison in Tamaulipas just months before, freeing 85 prisoners.  Large sectors of the Tamaulipas state government are believed to be infiltrated by the Gulf Cartel or its rival, Los Zetas.

According to the Washington Post, an anonymous official who worked at the Nuevo Laredo prison during the December outbreak said the facility was under control by the infamous drug cartel, Los Zetas, before the escape occurred. A dozen inmates had been murdered in the past six months, some decapitated or burned alive in the cellblocks.  The official stated, “the one in charge was called Charlie.  He lived in an air-conditioned cell with carpets and two plasma TVs. He brought in anything he wanted: drugs, liquor, women. He escaped with the rest of them, but he left some of his people behind. There’s too much money to be made.”  Prison experts say the security breakdown is largely due to the fact that the federal government launched its offensive against the drug mafias before it developed a penal system capable of incarcerating their members.


Miroff, Nick.  “Mexican prisons failing to keep drug traffickers on the inside.”  Washington Post.  03 February, 2011.

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