Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and gang activities.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a serious threat to prisoners’ health and lives. As of June 30, the think tank Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES) reported 38,386 inmates were being held in facilities designed for 11,478 inmates. This is an increase in capacity from 9,732 inmates in 2016.
As of September 21, the prison population included 25,849 convicted inmates and 12,851 inmates in pretrial detention. Convicted inmates and pretrial detainees were sometimes held in the same prisons and cells. The Salvadoran Institute for Child Development (ISNA) also reported that, as of July, there were 1,155 convicted juveniles incarcerated in its facilities, 211 of whom were awaiting trial. Among those in ISNA facilities, 320 were incarcerated on homicide charges, 254 on extortion charges, 156 on drug-related charges, and 143 were incarcerated for belonging to a criminal association or gang. The ISNA reported that 4 percent of minors spent more than 72 hours in initial detention. As of July the ISNA reported that two adolescents had been killed in juvenile detention facilities, allegedly by fellow gang members.
In many facilities, provisions for sanitation, potable water, ventilation, temperature control, medical care, and lighting were inadequate. On July 3, the PDDH published a report on the so-called extraordinary measures implemented in prisons since April 2016, some of which allegedly led to abuse of the right to life and the right to health of inmates. The extraordinary measures affected 14,213 inmates housed in seven prisons: Izalco, Izalcon III, Quezaltepeque, Chalatenango, Ciudad Barrios, Gotera, and Zacatecoluca penitentiaries. These measures included preventing communication between inmate gang leaders and members outside of prison, suspending all private communication and contact with inmates’ families, limiting inmates’ access to lawyers, and detaining and isolating known gang leaders in higher security prisons. Inmates were also potentially restricted to their overcrowded prison cells for most hours of the day, allowing diseases to spread more easily. The PDDH report highlighted that tuberculosis cases increased by 400 percent in the prisons system after the implementation of the extraordinary measures. The Prisons Directorate reported that, as of August, there were 892 prisoners infected with tuberculosis, and 19 had died of the disease. The PDDH mediated 2,000 cases related to prison conditions and noted that in 2016 a total of 47 inmates died, some of them due to unspecified reasons.
On August 22, Vice Minister of Health Julio Robles Ticas announced the creation of an interinstitutional committee for combating infectious and contagious diseases inside prisons and police detention cells. This followed an August 18 statement by Security Minister Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde that there were tuberculosis outbreaks at the Izalco, La Esperanza (known as Mariona), Sonsonate, and San Vicente prisons, mostly due to overcrowding. In September the PNC reported that due to prison overcrowding, there were 5,527 detainees in small detention centers at police stations, which had a combined capacity of 2,102 persons. In pretrial detention, there was no separation of sick and healthy detainees. In May 2016 the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the systematic violation of basic human rights by prison overcrowding, citing the government for violating prisoners’ right to health, and ordered periodic visits by the Ministry of Health. The court ordered prison authorities to build new prisons and to remodel others to shelter inmates humanely and the judicial system to review the inmate rosters with the aim of reducing the number of prisoners.
Gang presence in prisons remained high. As of September 21, detention center facilities held 17,614 inmates who were current or former gang members, approximately 46 percent of the total prison population. Despite the extraordinary measures, prisoners conducted criminal activities from their cells, at times with the complicity of prison guards and officials. Smuggling of weapons, drugs, and other contraband such as cell phones and cell phone SIM cards was a major problem in the prisons.
On May 29, Prisons Director Rodil Hernandez was arrested for the alleged mismanagement of two million dollars during the 2012-13 gang truce. Hernandez allegedly used funds from prison commissary shops to fund bonuses, overtime, and vacations; give loans to prison employees; and pay the salary of gang-truce mediator Raul Mijango, which was supposed to come from the Ministry of Defense. On August 29, Hernandez, among others, was acquitted on the grounds that the prosecution failed to prove individual responsibility for the alleged crimes. On October 5, the attorney general appealed.
As of September 21, prison authorities removed 11 guards from duty for carrying illegal objects. The Prisons Directorate reported that no data was collected on the exact number of guards sanctioned over the year for misconduct or complaints regarding human rights violations. As of August, the PDDH had received three complaints of human rights violations by prison personnel.
There was no information available regarding abuse of persons with disabilities in prisons, although the government’s National Council for Comprehensive Attention to Persons with Disabilities (CONAIPD) previously reported isolated incidents, including sexual abuse.
Administration: The PDDH has authority to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court has authority over the protection of constitutional rights. Under the extraordinary measures implemented in April 2016 and renewed in February until April 2018, inmates in the affected prisons were under restrictive conditions and could not receive visitors, including religious observance visitors such as priests.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers, NGOs, and the media, except to those prisons covered by the extraordinary measures. The PDDH continued to monitor all prisons. Church groups, the Institute for Human Rights at the University of Central America, LGBTI activists, and other groups visited prisons during the year. After the implementation of the extraordinary measures, which restricted monitoring of the prisons subject to the measures, the International Committee for the Red Cross suspended all prison visits until visitation was restored in the prisons subject to the extraordinary measures.
Improvements: In February prison Izalco II opened with the aim of relieving overcrowding in the prisons covered under the extraordinary measures. As of August a total of 2,017 inmates were housed in the new facility after being transferred from other prisons. On October 4, a new detention facility in Zacatecoluca was inaugurated with a capacity of 1,008 minimum-security general population inmates. On November 27, the new La Esperanza Detention Center opened in Ayutuxtepeque, in the department of San Salvador, housing 275 inmates with short prison terms transferred from other prisons. According to the Prisons Directorate, the facility was built to house 3,000 minimum security prisoners.