Monday, July 20, 2009

The maras run the prisons

El Salvador's prisons are not just dangerous and ineffectual -- the maras, or gangs, actually run their criminal enterprise from behind the prison walls. An article from the BBC details how authorities often cede authority over much of what happens inside the prisons to one of the country's two rival gangs:

Part of the problem is the authorities' policy of dedicating certain prisons to one particular gang.

The idea is to avoid violence between rival groups, yet in practice it means the state has handed over control of the prisons to the gangs, argues Jeanette Aguilar, an expert on the topic at the University of Central America (UCA).

"The prisons have been the place where the gangs have moved towards institutionalising themselves. They have created criminal economic networks," she said.

Inmates at Ciudad Barrios happily refer to the prison as the MS's home or neighbourhood. Lack of supervision means prisoners can easily get hold of the phones they allegedly use to arrange murders and illegal deals.(more).

8 comments:

Jeanne said...

This BBC article leaves much to be desired. It starts out quoting the prison warden. Any uninformed reader easily assumes that he is not only a competent authority but that from what he says, he would practically have to be a hero in order to uphold the law. What it doesn't say, and certainly no one would imagine from reading this, is that he is notorious for human rights abuses---a career military man whose guards routinely both verbally and physically abuse both prisoners and their family members. In fact, the way they do "body cavity" searches for telephones has led to at least four miscarriages in pregnant visitors in this last year. For these young women, that abuse of authority was par for the course, the reality of living in a situation where the "law" is whoever holds the badge or the gun or both.

The violence on the streets and and kids joining gangs in massive numbers is one of the saddest and scariest realities of El Salvador. What happens to those kids when they end up in our HELL of a prison system is inhuman and contributing every day to the anger and violence that feeds the beast. Sensationalist coverage of gangs like this article doesn't help the situation. It reinforces the misconception that to be young and male in El Salvador is to be destined for invisible, impotent poverty---unless you join an organization like the MS who daily gets international coverage for being the worst of the worst. Morever, much of what does get said in the press about gangs, doesn't apply exclusively (or sometimes even at all) to them as gang members.
For example in this article, "gangs control the prisons"--the same can and has been said about the civilian population in prisons. Yes, the prison system has severe problems including prisoners who continue a life of crime from inside, that the "gang" sanctions, promotes, or individually participates in any or all of these crimes is never investigated or proven. As Jeannette Aguilar alludes to, treating the gangs as units instead of individuals reinforces gang identity. But, it also feeds the deep and growing sense of social exclusion and victimization of gang members who have attempted and want to change to less violent ways of living.

For the first time in the history of El Salvador we have General Director of Prisons who is actually trying to address the almost never-ending problems without violating anyone's rights and by sticking to what the LAW says. He actually believes that by showing people that the authorities will respect the law people will be more inclined to believe that following the law themselves might have positive consequences. Up until now the rehabilitation process has been systematically thwarted and mocked by the levels of abuse, torture, random application of the law and corrupt authorities telling prisoners they ARE the law.
It's frustrating and angering to see this kind of news story circulate, because its been told, we've heard it, its what most people think anyway, though they themselves have never been inside.

This is a blog presumably written by someone who should know El Salvador well enough to know that the usual reporting has little to do with what really happens here. People read this blog because they want information and there isn't much out there on El Salvador. This BBC article doesn't do much to change anyone's stunted and prejudiced view of the 21,000 people who are imprisoned in El Salvador and certainly does nothing but promote the same old, same old on gang members. I hate commenting on blogs, its not my thing, because I would much prefer to talk with people face to face on what we think and feel on any topic. So, I "pedir disculpas" for not wanting to enter into an extensive discussion. But more than that, I certainly don't relish the security implications of discussing my knowledge of the prison situation in a public format. I will leave that to others.

El-Visitador said...

Weeeeell... duh!

When the government ignores its duty to protect the lives and families of the jailers...

When the government assigns a measly tiny share of its $3,300 million tax take to the prisons...

When the government alleges it does not have enough funds to build new prisons (which are only $10 million a piece, or 1/3 of 1% of the annual government rake)...

... the, what do you expect?

Yet I don't recall seeing much advocacy on this website for additional resources for the Police and the Courts so that the lives of the jailers can be protected, and so that prison funding can be increased.

People make their beds, they should lie on them without complaint.

Gatofilo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gatofilo said...

Tim, reality isn't just ice cream and apple pie.

lionroar992000 said...

Tim,

Here is my suggestion to this problem. Get the real trouble makers out of the jail and remove their legs or one leg and an arm then let them free. They will not be a threat to anyone then. Or the alternative would be round them up in a plane and supply them with the necessary clothes and some water then just drop them nowhere in the middle east desert. Trouble solved. You would be very surprised how many people have thought of this for quite some time.

john said...

The above poster reflects "death squad" mentality.

lionroar992000 said...

No John, this is the solution to the problem. If society or the problematic individual has failed at molding himself/herself into something productive, then you are no longer part of the solution and should be eliminated immediately. I am a democrat myself, but seeing such level of tolerance is obscene. Republicans believe in the death penalty in instances such as this. I quite frankly I agree with this. Drastic measures are required to deal with such situations. A past Honduran president did just that, execution style and it did remove a great deal of violence. If many of the coward countries of central America had the courage as Honduras, the crime rate would not be as high. I do not believe in punishing the innocent, but if you have evident proof beyond measure that someone purposely(i.e. not in self defense)kill someone. That person should be applied the death penalty. NO MORE DISPUTES.