Mexico’s federal prison population has more than doubled in recent years amid the crackdown on drug cartels and the overcrowded system needs to be revamped to prevent violence, the country’s top policeman said Friday.
Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said one prison in particular, Islas Marias, has seen its inmate population quadruple since President Felipe Calderon launched a national assault on organised crime in late 2006. Located off the coast of Sinaloa state, the prison now houses 3,946 inmates, up from 915.
“Where more disorder exists, there will be more violence,” Garcia Luna said, adding the government needs more space. “The penitentiaries can be places where not only do people complete their punishments, but where future delinquent conduct is prevented.”
In 2008, the federal prison system had about 4,500 inmates in six locations. Now there are nearly 11,000 inmates in eight penitentiaries.
“We are trying to abate the deficit of space and modernise our prison system,” he said.
In the case of Islas Marias, the government expanded so it can now house more than 5,000 inmates, but more needs to be done, especially as cartel violence continues, Garcia Luna said.
In recent years the government has detained thousands of suspected drug traffickers. In addition to the eight federal prisons, the country has 92 state and 333 municipal jails. The most dangerous nonfederal criminals are housed in the federal prisons.
In September, 85 prisoners escaped from a prison in the northern border city of Reynosa – the biggest breakout in recent history. Federal officials contend some jailbreaks are due to cartels seeking to recover members because new recruits are hard to come by.
More than 28,000 Mexicans have been killed since late 2006 in drug-related violence, and 2010 is on track to be the bloodiest so far.
In Acapulco on Friday, three men were shot to death in separate incidents, including one found dead on Costera Miguel Aleman, the main boulevard of the tourist zone. In all three cases, police in the Guerrero state had no motive for the killings or suspects.
In Morelia, the state capital of Michoacan, two billboards put up by the federal Attorney General’s Office offering rewards for information about members of La Familia cartel were found torched.
The burning came a day after a letter surfaced purportedly signed by “La Familia Michoacana.” It claimed the cartel wants to protect Michoacan and its residents and says the group will disband if federal police promise to act honestly and fight to the death to defend the state. There was no way to know whether the letter was legitimate.
Federal officials say the cartel is responsible for the state’s bloodshed. Last year, they say, the gang unleashed a spasm of violence in which at least 18 police officers were killed. Last week, in response to the arrest of two alleged cartel members, the gang set trucks on fire to block entries to Morelia and sprayed a shopping mall with automatic-weapons fire, according to the state attorney general’s office.
Meanwhile, the Mexican government plans to auction luxury jewellery and cars, planes and helicopters seized from drug traffickers and use the money to help pay for its campaign against organised crime.
The items to be auctioned next Thursday and Friday include a Rolex watch made of white gold and encrusted with 60 18-karat white diamonds and a gold ring with a 12.25-carat diamond that will start bidding at $114,000.