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Two high-profile escapes highlights the weakness of Mexican prison system

March 29, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Two high-profile escapes highlights the weakness of Mexican prison system

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On March 17th, presumed Mexican drug trafficker Juan Jose Esparragoza Monzon broke out of a Mexican prison with four other men.

Monzon is the son of Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, the most reclusive part of the Sinaloa cartel’s triumvirate of leaders, alongside the imprisoned “El Chapo” Guzman and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who is still on the lam.

Monzon and the four men who were with him — are high-ranking enforcers associated with the Sinaloa cartel.

However, the prison break is not the most recent embarrassing episode for the Mexican prison system.

On Wednesday night, 29 inmates crawled their way out of a tunnel that led out of a prison in  Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas, located in northeastern Mexico.

The Culiacan prison where the five high-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel escaped in recent weeks

The men, nine of whom are federal prisoners and four of them directly linked to drug trafficking, crawled out through a passage 5 meters deep and 40 meters long. Luis Alberto Rodriguez, the state security spokesman, said the tunnel was concealed under a hut illegally built in a part of the prison that the inmates controlled.

Once they had broken out, one of the fugitives shot and killed a motorist in an attempted carjacking.

A manhunt ensued, with federal, state, and military officials securing the prison’s borders. Fifteen of the inmates were recaptured, and at least 30 guards at the penitentiary are being investigated over the escape.

The prison, the Center for Execution of Sanctions (Cedes) of Ciudad Victoria, is over 40 years old, and local officials acknowledged that it had been “neglected in recent years” and did not have “adequate security measures.”

In recent months, officials have struggled to keep a grip on the prison. Proceso reported that there had been riots and fights among inmates. The facility is over capacity by 160 prisoners, and authorities have been looking to transfer them elsewhere.

Two months ago, a leader of the Zetas cartel was murdered inside the prison two days after being detained. The Zetas have been present in Tamaulipas and the surrounding area, and the group’s dispute with other groups for control of trafficking territories in the region is responsible for some of Mexico’s most brutal violence.

The Tamaulipas escape is similar to, though not as complex as, that of “El Chapo” Guzman, who escaped out of a maximum-security prison in Mexico through a ventilated, mile-long tunnel using a motorcycle on rails back in 2015.

Guzman was apprehended in January 2016 and was put back in the same prison.

A few months later, Mexican authorities transported him north to one of the country’s worst rated prisons because they feared an imminent escape attempt.

The day after 29 inmates escaped a prison facility in Ciudad Victoria through a dugout tunnel, prisoners set fire to the facility during a prison riot

The complexity of Guzman’s prison break, and the jailbreaks Mexico that have occurred since, illustrate the deeply rooted problems inside of Mexico’s legal and prison systems.

After Guzman’s capture, Mexican security analyst, Alejandro Hope told the Business Insider “some of the structural weaknesses of the Mexican prison system are still there … one of the persons that are being prosecuted for his escape was the head of the federal prison system.”

“This was not just El Altiplano,” Hope continued, referring to the jail Guzman escaped from. “This was systemic. I think some of those weaknesses are still there.”

The 29 inmates escaped a northern Mexican prison through a dugout tunnel last week

In Monzon’s case, the Sinaloa cartel head who broke free earlier this month, he and one of his fellow escapees were detained in a lower-security prison despite their high profiles because of stays issued by a judge in Culiacan.

“Mexico’s prisons are some of the most corrupt in the world,” Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the U.S. DEA, told Business Insider.

“The prison administration is horrible, and if you have money it’s very easy to bribe the people that work at the penitentiaries,” Vigil added.

“They give you access to communication, they give you access to members of your organization … and give you whatever you want.”

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