Monday, July 26, 2010

Prisons and Systemic Drug War Violence in Mexico

Whoever said that prisons stop violence?

A generation of anti-prison scholarship -- by Angela Davis, by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, by Mike Davis, by Christian Parenti , by Ethan Blue and myself, and by Julia Sudbury-- demonstrates that prisons do quite the opposite than bring about peace. They are, instead, incubators of violence.

And when it involves the drug war the ensuing violence is often of the worst type.

Consider the violence that interrupted the party underway in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico on the night of 18 July 2010. Sometime in the early hours gunmen burst into the Italia Inn and murdered seventeen people, many of whom were in their twenties and thirties.

The Torreon massacre came swiftly on the heels of the car bomb and ambush set up in downtown Juarez by La Linea, the armed wing of the Juarez drug trafficking organization.

Last week the car bomb attracted the most attention and comment.

But this week the media seems focused on revelations made by Mexico's Attorney General concerning a conspiracy between prisoners and their gaolers in nearby Gomez Palacio, Durango. Newly-appointed Attorney General Francisco Blake said that prisoners, warden, deputy warden, and heads of security at the Social Readaptation Center, (CERESO in its Spanish acronym), of Gomez Palacio, Durango, were all in cahoots over the massacre. They have since been relieved of their posts. (Torreon lies just across the Coahuila-Durango state line from Gomez Palacio.)

Newspapers report that the prisoners of Gomez Palacio connived with the prison staff to secure their release while they committed the atrocities at the Italia Inn. Apparently they had good relations, for after a riot last year that claimed nineteen lives, prisoners' families told La Jornada that the now relieved director was part of a group of people who could maintain calm.

The incident illuminates the inability of the justice "system" to create peace. One analyst told Sara Miller Llana of the Christian Science monitor that:

"President Calderón has presented reforms to Mexico's police and judiciary, but ... that little attention has been paid to prisons, even though drug traffickers often carry out extortion and business behind their cells."
And this statement comes years after the 2001 jailbreak by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, a Mexican drug kingpin who commands the Sinaloa drug trafficking organization. For much of the 1990s he was incarcerated in high security prisons within Mexico. In 2001, Guzman escaped from Puente Grande prison. He allegedly bribed guards and other staff to secure his release.

The news of the relationship between prisoners and prison staff in Gomez Palacio and how the latter facilitated the massacre arrives after last week's news about the Merida Initiative and its disbursed and non-disbursed funds. One of the Merida programs trumpeted by the State Department and the General Accounting Office was meant to create "humane corrections systems that can serve as a platforms for addiction treatment."

Maybe US dollars would be better spent on helping Mexican officials figure out how to stop prisons systematically spreading drug war violence?