Mexican prison riot leaves 52 dead on day before pope arrives

IMAGE: CNS photo/Miguel Sierra, EPA

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — A prison
riot in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey has claimed 52 lives, offering
another example of the problems plaguing Mexico’s prison system and casting a
pall over the arrival of Pope Francis in the country.

Nuevo Leon Gov. Jaime Rodriguez
Calderon confirmed the death toll Feb. 11 and attributed the bloodshed to a
clash between groups led by incarcerated leaders of the Gulf Cartel and Los
Zetas. The criminal groups, which were once partners, have fought for control
of crime and smuggling territories in Mexico’s northeastern states.

The clash in the Topo Chico
prison came just one day before Pope Francis was to arrive in Mexico City for a
six-day trip in which he was expected to address issues such as insecurity,
corruption and violence.

Pope Francis’ agenda includes a
Feb. 17 visit to the once-notorious Cereso prison in the border city of Ciudad

State officials say the Ciudad
Juarez prison has improved in recent years, with gangs no longer ordering crimes
in the city from behind bars, though priests working in the diocesan prison
ministry and with the families of inmates say problems persist such as inmates
having to pay for protection and privileges.

“There’s a certain control
by groups inside the prison. This has not completely been eradicated,”
said Father Oscar Enriquez, director of the Paso del Norte Human Rights Center
in Ciudad Juarez. He works with families with relatives inside Cereso prison.

A 2014 report on correctional
facilities from the National Human Rights Commission found widespread problems
persisting in Mexican prisons such as overcrowding, self-rule and inmates
awaiting trial being locked up with those already sentenced.

“Topo Chico had an
occupancy rate of 156 percent” in 2013, said Jorge Kawas, security
researcher and analyst in Monterrey. “Like most local prisons, it is also
underfunded and pretty much ungovernable.”

Father Robert Coogan, an
American prison chaplain in Saltillo, 30 miles west of Monterrey, said the Topo
Chico prison suffered from self-rule.

“They know how to calm the
authorities down by doing things that are pleasing to the authorities,”
Father Coogan said, pointing to the way inmate leaders will keep prisons with
self-rule clean, maintained and orderly as a way to keep wardens on their side.

“The reason for (inmates) controlling
the prison is that you cannot have an escape every time someone comes in. But
sometimes they will use their manipulation … to get the people they want to
release all in one place. Once they get them in one place, then they’ll set
them free.”

– – –

Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article