El Salvador has opened one of the world’s largest prisons, which will hold 40,000 inmates as arrests soar in a government crackdown on violent crime.
The “Terrorism Confinement Centre” in Tecoluca has been completed in seven months to relieve some of the country’s overcrowded jails.
President Nayib Bukele described the maximum-security prison as “a fundamental piece to completely win the war against gangs”.
Since El Salvador declared a state of emergency over gang violence in March 2022, the police and army have arrested more than 62,000 suspected gang members and their collaborators.
The president posted a video on Twitter of prison officials giving him a guided tour of the new facility.
He was shown its seven security “rings” – from the heavily guarded reinforced solid steel inmate cells to the prison perimeter wall including patrol zones, electric fencing and 19 watchtowers, making it “impossible to escape”.
Mr Bukele said inmates at other prisons have previously had access to “prostitutes, computers, TV screens, PlayStations and mobile phones” which he described as “backwards”.
Troublemakers will be moved to isolation cells where they “won’t see any daylight”, he was told.
“El Salvador has managed to go from being the most insecure country in the world to the safest country in the Americas,” the president tweeted.
With almost 2% of its adult population behind bars, El Salvador has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Under the crackdown, some constitutional rights have been suspended, including allowing authorities to make arrests without a warrant and giving the government access to citizens’ communication.
The rising inmate population as a result of the anti-gang measures, which the vast majority of the population supports, has stretched the country’s already overwhelmed prison system.
La Esperanza, the country’s largest jail, holds 33,000 people despite having a capacity of 10,000.
Around 600 troops and 250 police officers will guard the new prison where inmates will be “subjected to a severe regimen”, El Salvador’s prisons director Osiris Luna told state TV.
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