El Chapo Capture Puts Spotlight on State of Mexican Prisons

El Chapo Capture Puts Spotlight on State of Mexican Prisons

Last weekend, Mexico’s most-wanted drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was arrested after spending 13 years as a fugitive since escaping from prison. In an email interview, David A. Shirk,a political science professor and director of the Justice in Mexico Project at the University of San Diego, explained the state of Mexico’s prison system today and whether a Mexican prison could hold Guzman now.

WPR: What is the overall state of Mexico’s prison system in terms of its ability to humanely and securely house prisoners?

David A. Shirk: Like other prison systems around the world, Mexico's prison system suffers from significant problems, including overcrowding, corruption, poor security and sometimes inhumane conditions. Mexico's national prison overcrowding rate has been fairly consistent at about 20 percent over capacity, although this varies significantly depending on the state and prison. Part of the problem is that Mexico's traditional, semi-inquisitorial criminal justice system relies heavily on “pretrial” detention to prevent suspects from fleeing justice, which frequently results in mixing accused criminals with those who have been sentenced, among other problems. Also worrying is the large number of prison breaks that have occurred in the past several years, which has allowed convicted organized crime figures to get back into action.

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