Correctional System, Human Rights


Several of Mexico’s most pressing human rights problems stem from shortcomings in its criminal justice system. They include torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, and a failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations. Torture is a persistent problem within the Mexican criminal justice system. A factor perpetuating the practice is that some judges accept the use of evidence obtained through violations of detainees’ human rights. Prison inmates are subject to abuses, including extortion by guards and the imposition of solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time. Children in some juvenile detention facilities are forced to live in squalid conditions and are reportedly subject to beatings and sexual abuse. Foreign migrants are especially vulnerable to abusive practices by government agents.

Security Corner selected excerpts from Human Rights Watch’s most recent report on what we have in Mexico, which is what prompted us in Security Corner to take this issue & address it to Mexico City Prison System authorities. A written request for assistance presented to the Secretary of Federal Public Safety (SSP) met with negative results. Contrary to this position, Mexico City Government (GDF) no only provided all necessary information, but also invited this columnist to visit three of their busiest penitentiaries. The impression received was favorable. As usual in our monthly column, we start by taking a look at the Global Context.

The Global Context: Human Rights and Prisoners

On January 18, 2006 the World Report on Human Rights Abuses, in summary provides new Evidence -as demonstrated in 2005- that torture and mistreatment have been a deliberate part of the George W. Bush administration’s counter terrorism strategy, undermining the global defense of human rights. The policy has hampered Washington’s ability to cajole or pressure other states into respecting international law, said the 532-page volume’s introductory essay. 

Statistics (as of April 2006)

These are – according to the Nation Master’s World Chart, representing a vast compilation of data from such sources as the CIA World Fact Book, UN, and OECD- -the 9 countries with the largest population of inmates in the world:

United States with 2,078,570 prisoners, China 2,078,570,  Russia 846,967, 846,967, India 313,635, Brazil 308,304, Thailand 213,815, Ukraine 198,386, South Africa 180,952 &  Mexico 175,253 prisoners. According to official records provided by the Mexico City Government’s Penitentiary Directorship (Dirección General de Prevención y Readaptación Social) the number of inmates up to January 12, 2006 was: 31,486. So, the difference in numbers is made up in Mexico by state, federal prisons. 

Please click on each link and study its contents:

World Chart on Prisoners

United Nations Minimal Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners

Human Rights Watch: Prisoners

Updated Report by Human Rights Watch on Mexico

US Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas

California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Sale of Criminal Records Information

Online US Prison Records .. for sale! Believe it or not for the cost of US $24.95 there is a 1-5 days Turn around. You will get information whether an individual has been, incarcerated in a federal corrections facility within the last ten years. Information returned will vary upon subject, but may include case numbers, charges, dates, offenses, and incarceration location. In Mexico, this is not permitted. Prisoners –once they served their punishment- they are granted the opportunity to rehabilitate. With this procedure –criminal records information- prospective employers will never hire a former inmate.

Death Penalty Information Center

More than INTERESTING Facts:

Russia has almost twice as many judges and magistrates as the United States. Meanwhile, the United States has 8 times as much crime. The United States puts 0.7 % of its population in Prison - a vastly higher percentage than any other nation. People trust Swedes! Swedish companies are the world’s least-likely to be perceived as paying bribes. 84% of people in Finland feel that they are at a low risk of experiencing a burglary - but just look at how many burglaries they have! 82% of people in Finland show confidence in police institutions, though only 41% of the Fins surveyed felt they could report a crime to the police.

Jail & PoliceCorruption Exists not ONLY in Mexico

DEA under suspicion. US Drug Wars: tremendous bias and blindness common to most US reports on drugs. 

Corruption in US Prisons: Please, PLEASE make sure to watch video, turn volume UP.

In the United Kingdom – Suicides Increase in Jails 18 Sep 03, UK:

Prisoners Should Learn to Read and Write Before Facing Legal System Authorities 03 Sep 04/UK

Two Police Officers admitted burglaring an east London flat and taking 80kg of cannabis 14 Oct 98 –UK

Stealing £200,000 27 Jun 03  |  London

A top policeman at the heart of a revealing BBC series about Merseyside Police was arrested and charged with corruption while the programme was being made for accepting £10,000 in a bid to derail an attempted murder trial on behalf of a drugs baron.11/12/1998

U. S. Punitive Drug Prohibition Policies

In summary, to end this introductory segment, I’d only add the words by Ethan A. Nadelmann, J.D., Ph.D., “punitive drug prohibition policies in the United States may well represent the most crime-producing government intervention ever devised. First, the simple act of producing, selling, purchasing and possessing marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other strictly controlled and banned drugs are crimes in and of themselves, which occur billions of times each year in the United States alone. U.S. law enforcement officials make over one million arrests for violations of these laws alone each year. U.S. prisons and jails now hold more than 400,000 people incarcerated for violations of these laws -- an eightfold increase from the 50,000 incarcerated in 1980..”

Dr. Nadelmann, is founder and director of The Lindesmith Center a drug policy research institute with offices in New York and San Francisco. He previously served, from 1987 to 1994, as assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University. Further, he is an attorney and former director of drug control policy for the State of Michigan. More about his relevant background, here.

Mexico’s Penitentiary System in brief.

On the other hand, Security Corner author wrote in December –in the middle of the holiday season- to Licenciado Antonio Hazael Ruiz Ortega who is responsible for Mexico City’s Prisons, requesting his assistance to prepare this article. The following day, we received a more than welcome invitation to become familiar with what exists today in terms of incarceration in one of the largest metropolis in the world, with about 10 million inhabitants. He delegated this responsibility to his Deputy Director for Technical Support. The name of this incredibly busy official is Licenciado Luis Miguel Licona.

It should be noted that a formal request in writing presented on January 18, 2006 to Lic. Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza, Secretary of Public Safety (SSP) in México met with negative results.

Life inside Mexico City Jails

When this columnist personally interviewed Lic. Licona the first time, he caused search of his records and revealed information that was highly surprising to me. His last census of the Mexico City inmates population as of January 13, 2006 was of 31,486 .. yes! This represents less than 1 % of the entire population of Mexico City. When questioned about what is the most serious problem his organization suffers of, he listed these, in priority order.

Racism, Human Rights, Stigma: a University in Crime, Productive Force 

  • Mexican Society is racist: we discriminate against those of dark skin color, especially the Indigenous people who live in Mexico, have their own language, mostly poor, uneducated. Also, women, the handicapped, old people and .. ex prisoners.
  • His area of expertise is the result of years in close contact with inmates, assisted by psychologists, criminologists, social workers, sociologists and other professionals.
  • On the downside, Licona reported not to have a constructive, positive rapport with those who are in charge of Human Rights organizations. Rather, they see each other as enemies to defeat, when the mutual collaboration should be of working arm in arm for same goals.
  • The Mexican Government as the result of limited financial resources is unable to provide a serious, formal assistance program to those who for one reason or the other, ended up serving time in our jails. At this point in time, in the Federal District each prisoner costs $ 120 pesos a day. As in the United States, other countries, we seriously deny them of any opportunity to be reaccepted once they have complied with punishment and Society, as ordered by judges.
  • Our source indicated that in many cases, prisoners enjoy in Mexico advantages not ever offered to them before being incarcerated: 3 daily meals, medical attention, sports, recreational and even educational activities, 24-hour installations’ maintenance, workshops, the chance to report abuses, a right many times abused or taken out of context by career criminals.
  • Stigmas are created by unprofessional journalists, international media, politicians, common people like you and I by assuring that Mexican jails are so called “Universities of Crime!”..
  • Instead we all should be part of the creation of what prison authorities refer to as a Support Web to help reformed criminals get back to being a productive force once they return to Society. Licona finds it as a vicious circle to find former convicts getting jobs as car washers, begging money at street corners, washing windows, selling chewing gum or looking for the first chance to commit a new crime to be sent back to .. prison, where for many life is better than what the rest of us can offer in terms of a real chance to get them rehabilitated.

The Concept of Support Web

We have in Mexico some of the wealthiest men and women that inhabit this planet. Some of these own important firms in beer, media, aviation and other areas. I have seen, corroborated their interests in investing –especially as we approach presidential elections- their money in governmental programs that will enhance Public Safety. Mexico City Government officials I interviewed during this report have disclosed a dream that I believe would function to benefit our Society, if put into effect, in three steps, needed URGENTLY:

  1. Effective Massive Programs for Crime Prevention.
  2. The promotion, sale of products made in prisons as offered to the public at the only store that exists in Mexico City, located at 124 San Antonio Abad, Colonia Tránsito, tel. No. 5132-5400. Some of these articles are art crafts, textile products and invariably they have a unique distinction. They are undoubtedly of good taste, each carries a personal touch that makes them different. I encourage my readers to visit this store and become familiar with these products, great for home, office decoration or as garments.
  3. The change of attitude by all of us will reflect in the long range in a safer environment. If you own a company, give a chance to people who were forced to commit crimes to subsist, out of necessity. The Mexico City Government would be willing to open a program recommending certain prisoners who have shown proven willingness to deserve a new chance. Should your company require hands-on support in areas that may require men and women who would be grateful until the day they die for this opportunity, you will also have a more vigorous economy and country to live in.

The Foreign Presence in our Jails

20 countries coming from every continent are sadly represented in Mexico City jails. Four countries have the largest numbers, in priority order: Colombia (39), Venezuela (32), Spain (19) and the United States of America (19). Licenciado Licona indicated that foreign prisoners are the “pampered” group in our penitentiaries. Unlike in other countries, once these are detained, they are provided with the right to contact their Embassies, Consulates, lawyers. Some Embassies complain that the food served to their prisoners makes their digestive system upset, arrange special delivery for some of these, to eat as used in their countries.

Eastern Penitentiary

Lic. David Navarro Villa, an attorney at law from UNAM met this columnist in his busy office. He has been in public service for the last 15 years, mostly in the area of Human Rights. For about the last two years he has been in charge of the Males Eastern Penitentiary, located in Iztapalapa, one of the most crime-ridden areas of Mexico City. Lic, Navarro lives inside the prison. He said his responsibility requires full attention around the clock. Under his command he has a 24-hour staff consisting of some 900 employees who specialize in various areas of the Incarceration System. He reported to have –on March 3, 2006- a total of 9,418 inmates under his custody. This represents 30 % of the inmates population in the D. F. 230 of these, of Indigenous origin. Four U. S., two Canadian citizens. Also a reduced number of Colombians, Nigerians. Most of them were interned to respond to the most common crime: theft, assault. From statistics his assistants indicated that from a group of 500 of recent incarceration, 100 of these are repeated offenders. They worry about the dramatic increasing number of criminals that come in for the first time, average age 18-25. It is evident that lack of employment opportunities, poverty lead to criminal trends. He concluded that authorities in other areas of government must concentrate in ways to create new jobs, get entrepreneurs’ attention to .. prisons. They are the thermometer of social peace, public order. Ways that lead to providing for rehabilitation include promoting fine products made by inmates, while serving time.

Life Inside the Prison

Lic. Carlos Gómez Pachecho and Martín Meza, assistants to the Director, invited the writer to a physical visit to the penitentiary. The process to enter the jail is strict. No wallets are allowed and only one identification is demanded at the first check point. If you have other Ids in your possession, access will be denied. Before the tour, was notified that visitors are not allowed to wear white, beige, black, dark blue clothes not to get confused with colors that identify those inside the compound. Also, no cell phones, cameras. A meticulous physical search on all belongings –including a physical hand search- is conducted at the entrance, by security officers dressed in black uniform. The huge compound was inaugurated in 1976, has a total surface of 149,205 m2. and 60,171 square meters that occupy the building. 

Unlike in other countries, what called my attention is the relaxed atmosphere inside. While there is surveillance inside, the number of security personnel is not that abundant. Most inmates identify “outsiders” –as I was- immediately. They are friendly, say hello, want to shake your hand. It is sad to see a great majority are younger people. I was taken to their gym, soccer field, bakery, inside stores (at street prices), was invited to sample bean tacos, fruit drinks they make in their kitchen and sell to other inmates. Interviewed a group of professionals: one female medical doctor, two lawyers, one male, the other female; a sociologist and a psychologist. They cover 24-hour shifts. All, full-time Mexico City government officials with a specialty in prison system. They have an elementary school that –when I visited- its classrooms were full. Their library is well stocked. Amazingly enough, that same day one inmate (inside the prison) was administered his professional exam by the Polytechnical (IPN) Institute to become a Textile Engineer. Many engage in recreational activities, such as chess playing, others spend time in their library or at the parish, praying. Many, simply lay on the grass, under a tree, asleep. Nuns, priests are seen walking around the hallways, busy, talking to the prisoners. The violent, aggressive are not wondering around, they live separately. Was not taken to check these out, as a precaution for my safety, but perceived had I insisted, would have been welcome to meet these. Those that operate their shops indicate that what is most needed here are businessmen and women who can promote what is sold at their stores. There are a few firms that use their services and in this manner allow them to have a limited income inside. Legislation in Mexico does not oblige prisoners to work, so this is voluntary. The three hours-visit left in this visitor a favorable impression.

A Special Message

You will be helping many human beings in bad need of support, providing for their support with dignity, buying products of the best quality at rock-bottom prices by visiting their store.

Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to call the attention of the many prosperous businessmen and women –we have 100 of the wealthiest in the world- to unite in an effort to support authorities who have a delicate mission on behalf of our society, by becoming interested in programs to create jobs inside prisons and provide for a chance of life to those young persons who sooner or later will again return to our streets. It is in the hands of all of us –Mexicans- to resolve the issue of Public Safety, Crime Prevention for the benefit of all, rich and poor.

End of Article

 Security Corner is a monthly column, result of intensive research by Mr. Mario González-Román to serve as support to the International Community. In some cases, official support was received from the Mexican Government, non-profit private organizations and personal contributions in pursuit of the objective of each article. In others, information was acquired via Internet, by personal interviews or other channels. In each case, credit is given to information sources. Authors’ rights are reserved –copyright- and you are not authorized to reproduce or share its contents, unless you have PREVIOUSLY requested and received - in writing - permission from the author. Mr. González-Román is a retired FSN employee from the Embassy of the United States of America, where he worked per prior consent by Mexican Congress as evidenced in Federal Official Diary no. 16, dated September 23, 1981. Please visit his personal Site.


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