Going loco: Is it finally time for Mexico to reform its prison system?

Complete with a personal sauna and aquarium, it seems that the Topo Chico Prison is the perfect place to take a load off. With over 200 food stalls and even a well stocked bar, is there really anywhere else you need to be?

Last week’s prison riots would suggest otherwise. With fifty two people killed and twelve injured, the riots erupted as a result of long standing tensions between rival drug cartels, who are grappling against each other for control of the prison.

It has been unfortunate timing for President Nieto, with Pope Francis visiting a prison in Northern Mexico in the same week, and the prison director Gregoria Salazar Robles and her deputy Jesus Fernando Dominguez Jaramillo both being charged with abuse of power. The most recent report on prisons by the National Human Rights Commission found widespread evidence of “autogobierno”, self-rule by inmates, and assigned the Topo Chico prison a score of 5.72 out of 10.

With homemade weapons used in the violence, and a prison guard killed in the cross fire, surely now is the time to address the real state of Mexico’s prisons? With the Hollywood style escape of El Chapo in July making a mockery of the entire system, it has been a series of embarrassing blunders for those in authority. With cartel rivalries being the stuff of legend, and gang leaders commanding a following that politicians would yearn for, the real victims have been forgotten in all of this. With the rise and fall of gang leaders becoming folklore legend, why do cartels continue to command such authority in Mexico?

Certainly, the lack of control within the systems that are meant to protect is concerning. In glamourizing the cartel lifestyle, the plight of the victims is diminished. As demonstrated in Topo Chico, the corruption entrenched in the very system that is meant to prevent crime, has all contributed to the power the cartels wield.

And yet this is in Monterrey, which had until recently been a symbol of progress in Latin America. However, relentless drug chaos and violence has shattered the reputation of this being an economic boomtown. The sentiment has very much been that of ‘if Monterrey falls, Mexico falls’.

The Los Zetas drug cartel, described by the US Government as “the most technically advanced, sophisticated and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico” continues to maintain a terrifying grip over Monterrey. The riots in Topo Chico prison were the latest in a long line of clashes in the country’s prisons. It is a given that improvement won’t be immediate, but the balance of power needs to be restored, so that eventually people start to look up to actual, more conventional figures of authority.

Naomi de Souza

Image courtesy of Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP/Getty Images

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