Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Mafias Tolerated In Prisons

"Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

On the morning of January 1, an armed group provoked a riot in the State Social Reinsertion Center (Cereso) number three in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, resulting in a preliminary toll of 10 guards killed, in addition to four inmates who were left dead in different parts of the prison and around 30 who managed to escape. To date, 12 have been recaptured.

The emergency in many of the country's prisons adds to the climate of insecurity and violence, in spite of the authorities' attempts to remedy the situation through revision operations, especially transfers from state prisons to federal penitentiaries, as the number of people behind bars continues to increase and illegal power groups take over spaces, activities and charges, with the complicity of some authority representatives.

Riots, escapes, fights, homicides, suicides and rapes, are the negative incidences that are reproduced in some of the 284 prisons in Mexico. Such as those recently occurred in prisons in Baja California, Zacatecas, Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon, where blood has flowed not only of the inmates themselves, but also of security and custody elements.

Groups of inmates who are part of gangs or cartels keep the establishments that supposedly have the constitutional function of social reinsertion on tenterhooks. According to the national penitentiary statistics notebook, December 2022 closed with a population of 228,530 people behind bars, in prisons that have a global capacity for 217,671 properly installed places, there are 10,859 inmates left over who do not have their own dignified space.

The Decentralized Administrative Body for Prevention and Social Readaptation (OADPRS) and the Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection (SSPC) recognize that there is overcrowding in 132 of the 284 prisons; that is, in almost half of the total number of prisons.

In 270 state and Mexico City prisons there are 209,554 inmates, while only 14 prisons run by the Federal Government hold the remaining 18,976 inmates, despite the fact that the head of the SSPC, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, reported that so far this six-year term, more than 8,000 inmates have been transferred, more than 8,740 inmates have been transferred to Federal Centers for Social Readaptation (Cefereso), some of them of maximum security such as Altiplano in Almoloya de Juarez, State of Mexico, being that same entity, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Chihuahua and Quintana Roo, the ones that have received more support.

Only 4,588 of the transfers were carried out in 2022, those mass transfers have been reactive to negative incidents and at the request of the states in cases of riots such as those registered in the Social Reinsertion Center (CRS) of La Mesa in Tijuana, during the months of April 2021, October and December 2022, where custodians were injured. Also, the attempted riot and the frustrated escape of at least eleven prisoners on the night of Sunday, December 4, 2022 at the Cieneguillas prison in Zacatecas, which resulted in roadblocks and the burning of 10 vehicles.

However, the most terrible event took place at the beginning of the year, on Sunday, January 1, when an armed criminal cell broke into the CRS Number 3 in Ciudad Juarez and killed 17 people, 10 of them prison guards, two state police officers and five prisoners, to facilitate the escape of 30 inmates of the criminal gang Los Mexicles and their leader in prison, Ernesto Alfredo Piñon de la Cruz, alias "El Neto", who was killed days later by police officers.

The head of the prison and the director of the prison system were dismissed. To date, 12 of the escaped inmates have been recaptured, and four others died during the events.

The most recent riot took place on January 31 at the Apodaca prison in Nuevo León, during a search operation in which cell phones, sharp objects and various drugs such as marijuana and 500 milliliters of liquid crystal meth were seized, as well as five USB flash drives. The action, in which the police officers and Civil Force officers took part, caused dissatisfaction among the population of the center, which led to a series of protests which, although they threatened to escalate in tone, did not become serious.


For Enrique Zúñiga Vázquez, a master in Criminology and Criminal Policy who for several years was able to enter various prisons due to his work as a prison visitor, assures that the approach to the problem is not only explained through overpopulation and overcrowding that has to do with preventive detention, but with the dynamics of what happens inside, in addition to the fact that each center has its own complications. A phenomenon he has known since he was a criminologist assigned to Mexico City's prisons.

Author of the book "La pelea por los infiernos", subtitled "Las mafias que se disputan el negocio de las cárceles en México", published by Editorial Grijalbo, Zúñiga Vázquez highlights that illegal power groups operate in many of the country's prisons with the complacency of some kind of authority, while the bulk of the prison population is made up of impoverished and criminalized people who turn from victimizers into victims inside the prisons. The formal authority identifies these mafias as self-government "to cover their tracks."

"The authorities speak of self-government, that is, power groups that operate within a prison, and from there they commit crimes within the prison populations, them stepping aside, but in a real way, the authorities never lose control; that is to say, the prison system became a criminal asset, in the sense that it leaves a lot of money," warns the expert, who recognizes that the definition of self-government and co-government are categorized within the regulations and recognized by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The researcher believes that self-government is a complete lie, in the sense that the authority never loses control over a prison. "Evidently, we have this idea. The approach of the authority is as follows: one day, a group of people decided to form a group of illegal power, and then, entering the prisons, as there were many people like them, who are criminals, they decided to establish there a power where they doubled the authority, and began to operate from there the crime. It is something totally illogical. In such closed places, there is always someone who knows, there is always someone who sees and someone who is willing to tell you," he said.

"So, the authorities are fully aware of it, so much so that they are participants in this deception, because they have set up and it also has to do with a logic, from the judges who often determine to send certain types of people to certain prisons, and I have seen that they send from a person who is in charge of the prison and who is a commander, a totally irregular or paramilitary, macabre power, those who charge, the financial operators, those who kill, those who are inside the prisons themselves are derived. This factitious power is supported by the legal power so that they can operate," stated Zúñiga.

In his opinion, several factors alter the state of the Mexican prison system: "What's more, there are even prisons that are reinforced on the inside. What do they keep on the inside? I don't know. They have a very valuable asset there that the legally constituted authorities form a circle of power or retention on the outside and the irregular forces on the inside protect an asset. Now it is the other way around, they protect themselves from attacks from the outside to protect the people inside, not the other way around, that those who are inside have to go out to commit crimes, but they have to protect a bulwark that is inside the prison itself. So, for me, self-governments are a lie, as they say, a sophism, a fallacy. "


After twelve years of field research, talking to people behind bars and observing what happens in the prison spectrum, Enrique Zúñiga does not hesitate to say that "the wall of lies and ignominy that revolves around the prison industry is a totally capitalizable market, where people, outside, are seen as waste, but acquire a high added value inside. A person behind bars in prison is obviously worth more than outside. Outside, they are nobody, and inside, they have a status. They have a name.

He continued:

"There are two types of privatization: legal privatization and de facto privatization. The de facto privatization is the one that exists in all prisons where there are charges and the authorities are totally involved. They have their hands in this because they are not sporadic acts of corruption, where they say 'he gave me 5 pesos or 10 pesos for me to pass a certain type of products', but there is a price list for the entry of products for visits, for food, to operate cell phones, etc.".

It is sad to see how the figure of prison continues to be a priority for social control. The writer emphasized: "People behind bars become cannon fodder for these power groups, and they have to 'work', get with the program. If they cannot pay, they have to work with the power group that is there, but also many find an identity in this group, that is why they graduate in pedagogies of cruelty, because there they practice all kinds of cruelties, as in Topo Chico, where they gave Viagra to rapists so that they could abuse people who had information. To men and women. "

The same has happened in other types of prisons, and these are populations that go from being victimizers to victims, "where evidently the State neglects the issue that has to do with the protection of people and the protection of their human rights. They also become victimizers of a system that in theory should be governed by the norm and by respect for guarantees and human rights. "

But it is not the same dynamic everywhere. "For example, at some point when Los Zetas ruled the prisons, they had very cruel leaders. They carried out acts of extreme cruelty, for example, in Piedras Negras, where they even had an extermination camp. The only thing found there that resembles a concentration camp, where they put people in there, they kept them locked up, tortured them, killed them, and turned them into dust. They would turn them into stew. The Zetas acted in that way, they demolished the prisons, they removed the pipes, they pulled down the fences, the offices, they burned... they were totally destroyed centers full of noxious fauna," described the professional, a graduate of the National Institute of Criminal Sciences (INACIPE).

"If you go to other prisons, where the Sinaloa Cartel ruled, you might find greater order, with power groups that control there, totally different, with more permissibility for the authorities. They allow more play with the authorities. Now, with the installation of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), we see that dynamic in Jalisco's prisons, which are among the cleanest in the country, despite the fact that they are very overcrowded, they are clean.

"The CJNG has a particular seal: it does not allow begging, that is, asking for money, it does not allow dirt and people have to be clean and bathed, the rooms perfectly tidy. Despite the fact that there are a lot of inmates, you go to the centers where the CJNG governs, and it is clear to you their way of operating, their characteristic stamp," the interviewee concluded.

Zeta Tijuana


  1. US says Mexican cartels are biggest threat since 9/11.
    "Jason Jones, retired Texas road and safety captain, says the effect that the cartels and illegal immigration is taking on the united states is almost as big as a day many people say they never will forget.

    "What you are witnessing in Mexico and what you are witnessing at the southwest boarder is the largest U,S intelligence failure since 9/11", says Jones."

    1. I mean, when it comes to fentanyl yeah but immigration? Really? Sounds like that police captain is just a biased douche.

  2. " because there they practice all kinds of cruelties, as in Topo Chico, where they gave Viagra to rapists so that they could abuse people who had information" can someone provide more information? I was not able to locate any additional information on my own. It was my understanding that rapists in Mexican jails were forced to live away from general population or face immediate violence.

  3. Reminds me of the documentary La Causa (2019) about a prison run by inmates.

  4. All the real gangsters have some prison education


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