In more than half of Mexico’s prisons, inmates have taken control

Inmates in Mexico’s Topo Chico Prison Lived in Luxury Before a Deadly Riot.
Inmates in Mexico’s Topo Chico Prison Lived in Luxury Before a Deadly Riot.

By Ana Campoy / Quartz

Aquariums, sauna baths, digital TVs and more than 280 food stands, including a bar. Those are some of the perks dismantled by authorities at Topo Chico prison in northern Mexico, the site of a bloody riot earlier this month that left 49 inmates dead.

The pile of contraband, which had to be removed with heavy machinery due to its bulk, is not a sign of progressive corrections policy. Instead, it underscores the fact that criminals were running the jail in Monterrey, in the state of Nuevo León.

And that’s the situation in many of Mexico’s jails. Nearly 60 percent of state prisons are dominated by inmate self-rule, according to an evaluation of dozens of penitentiary centers by the National Human Rights Commission in 2014.

The agency found that inmate groups run many aspects of prison life, including family visits, the use of phones, and even what inmates are fed. The situation, it says in its report, leads to violence and power struggles.

Despite repeated calls for public officials to do something about the growing problem, experts say conditions haven’t improved in recent years.

“There’s a criminal society inside the jails, with its organization and privileges, and in which everything has a price,” Daniel Montero Zendejas, a criminal law expert, tells Quartz.

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