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Mexican prisons overcrowded, run by inmates

MEXICO CITY: Dozens of Mexican prisons are overcrowded and run by inmates, with many sneaking televisions, cellphones and weapons into their cells, a human rights body said Tuesday.

The governmental National Human Rights Commission said in a report that 71 state and six federal penitentiaries – out of more than 150 prisons – are too crowded.

The overpopulation list includes the 836-capacity Altiplano maximum-security prison, which houses the infamous leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, along with more than 1,000 other inmates.

The problems stems in part from the fact that 40 per cent of inmates are kept behind bars even though they are still waiting for rulings in their cases.

The commission also found that inmates govern themselves in 71 state prisons, but not in any of the federal jailhouses.

“There’s possession of objects that are inappropriate, from cellphones to televisions and weapons,” said Ruth Villanueva, a commission expert.

Some privileged inmates have one or two cells all to their own, while in some cases 30 prisoners share a cell meant for four people, Villanueva said.

Two recent cases have put a spotlight on Mexico’s prison problem: Guzman’s escape in July 2015 and a brawl that left 49 inmates dead at another penitentiary in February.

Guzman was recaptured in January and sent back to the Altiplano, where authorities have imposed extraordinary security measures, including placing rebar in the concrete floors to prevent another tunnel escape and posting a guard outside his cell 24 hours per day.

Following the deadly riot at the Topo Chico prison in northern Nuevo Leon state, authorities found “luxury cells” with portable saunas, aquariums and even one bar.

Guzman’s escape and the Topo Chico brawl “demonstrated the vulnerabilities and flaws of our penitentiary system,” said commission president Luis Raul Gonzalez.

“We can’t wait for grave evens to happen in a prison to look at the existing problem in this area and implement actions that, in most cases, are stopgap measures,” he told a news conference.

Pena Nieto vowed to reform the country’s prisons following Guzman’s escape last year. –AFP/nst

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