“Incarceration works,” says The Washington Examiner in an editorial. “Yes, that’s right,” the editorial continues, “putting lots of very bad criminals behind bars is a necessary part of any effective strategy against rising crime in the U.S.”
As evidence of this concept, the paper cites the example of El Salvador. The small Latin American country’s president, Nayib Bukele, introduced a “Mega Prison” with a capacity of 40,000 beds waiting chiefly for gang members. Construction of CECOT, El Centro de Confinamiento Terrorista — The Terrorism Confinement Center — took only seven months, reported the DailyMail.com on February 9, 2023.
The prison represents Bukele’s attempt to build his country out of its crime and gang crisis. “If we don’t rid our country of this cancer now, then when will we ever do it?” asked Bukele, “We will go and find them wherever they are. Regardless of who protests. Regardless of how angry the international community gets.”
The slaying of 62 Salvadorans in a single day resulted in a massive crackdown on suspected gang members. Task forces composed of heavily armed police and soldiers raided neighborhoods controlled by gangs, reported Alemán and Sherman.
In March of 2021, El Salvador’s congress ratified a 30-day state of emergency (now in its tenth month) and suspended all due process rights and the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, leaving many arrestees without access to lawyers. It also suspended the right to have court hearings within 72 hours after arrest. Authorities have made arrests without any explanations or warrants.
Marcos Alemán and Christopher Sherman of the AP to reported to ABC News entire swaths of territory under the control of gangs that employed brutality and fear, forcing thousands of law-abiding Salvadorans to emigrate. Poorest neighborhoods not covered by state authorities have suffered the most. Extortion rackets that targeted even low-earning forms of commerce have forced out of business any enterprise that did not or could not pay.
In April 2021, El Salvador listed its prison population at 36,000, says The Washington Examiner, which put the country’s 29 prisons at 120% of capacity. The recent war on gangs has put behind bars 63,000 more Salvadorans suspected as criminal and gang members. The nation of 6.5 million people now seems to have the world’s highest incarceration rate at 2%, according to Daily Mail.com.
Prior to this new prison’s construction, La Esperanza, the country’s largest prison housed a population of 10,000. It currently houses a population of 33,000.
Some 800 soldiers and police officers will guard the Terrorism Confinement Center. The institution spreads out over 410 acres, housing many of the 63,000 suspected gang members. As part of their punishment, incarcerated persons receive only two meals per day. They must stay inside the cells for 24 hours a day.
“I think Bukele needs to really investigate so that he won’t incarcerate innocent people,” said José Monarca, 68, a San Quentin resident and native of El Salvador. “Despite all this, the government is tired of all the injustice that our community has endured. I was extorted twice by the gangs, once with my wife and the second time with my daughter, who had to migrate to Italy.”
President Nayib Bukele, a well-known figure on social media, increased his popularity through Twitter. He brags about the new prison, touting the Terrorism Confinement Center as the biggest and safest prison in all of Latin America, reported Alemán and Sherman.
“All the terrorists who (caused) grief and pain to the Salvadoran people will serve their sentences… under the most severe regime,” said Deputy Justice Minister Osiris Luna, quoted by The Daily Mail.com.
Bukele appealed to lawmakers on several occasions to change the criminal code. It resulted in a reduction of the age for criminal responsibility to 12, and established prison sentences of 10 to 15 years for journalists who disseminate gang messages that could cause anxiety or panic in the community, added the report by Alemán and Sherman in ABC News.
Human rights organizations have expressed criticism, considering this prison too big and an embarrassment to the nation. They say that the government prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation. Human Rights Watch denounced the roundup as indiscriminate. After the protest, Bukele scornfully called the organization “Homeboys Rights Watch.”
Posting on Twitter, the president wrote, “Message for the gangs: because of your actions, now your ‘homeboys’ will not be able to see a ray of sunlight.” Alemán and Sherman reported.
Many Salvadorans approve the actions against gangs that have long terrorized their communities. “It’s good what they’re doing, they took long enough,” said a 52-year-old homemaker whose two sons went to the U.S. for a better life.
“As a Salvadoran citizen, I can see why others may support this method of incarcerating people without any due process or the reasons to know why they are being locked up for,” said David Aries, 38, a San Quentin resident. “I am afraid that when I get out, I will be deported back to El Salvador where they are going to throw me in prison or worse, kill me without any reasons whatsoever.”