California convicts soon to be deported to Baja California
One of the most heated issues in current public debate has been the jail system, mainly because far from being a place of rehabilitation it has been a place of overcrowding, violence and steep public spending both in California and Baja California.
With more than 150 thousand inmates, the California Jail system is maxed out, and the governor is pushing the idea of freeing 40 thousand non-violent inmates not only to reduce overcrowding, but also to save the state 1.2 billion dollars a year.
Many of those ex-convicts would soon be deported to Baja California because of their immigration status; most of them belong to violent jail gangs, have violent pasts, are addicted to drugs and despite their emigration status, have never been to Mexico in their adult lives.
The prospect of such deportations have worried residents and authorities alike, because the mass deportation of inmates comes at a critical time where the Baja Penitentiary system is 35% overcrowded, arrests are up and a major legal system overhaul is scheduled for the beginning of 2010.
“This decision of liberating inmates in California will definitely have an impact in the public safety conditions along the border, where we already have a very complex scenario” said Baja California Attorney General, Rommel Moreno Manjarrez.
His California counterpart, Jerry Brown acknowledged the fact the deportation of ex-convicts could impact security in both sides of the border, and agreed to work with Rommel to create a plan to mitigate such impact.
The plan includes working together in a system to share information about deportations and inmates, including a fingerprint data base for future reference.
A jail system at a crossroad
Baja California has a jail population of 18,600 inmates in 5 state penitentiaries; some, like La Mesa in Tijuana and Mexicali have an overcrowding so severe, inmates are housed 26 to a cell designed for 6 people.
About 80% of inmates are addicted to drugs and 55% of them come from other states in Mexico, -Sinaloa, Sonora and Michoacán mainly-, making it hard for them to have visits or even contact their families.
Currently there are just a few work programs that allow inmates to work and earn a living; one of them is in Hongo penitentiary close to Tecate, where there are office furniture and textile factories that employ 500 out of the 3,500 inmates.
The lack of activities and overcrowding, interact with other factors such as the rampant corruption among the guards; constant complaints of spoiled food and physical punishments and abuse, that have lead to a series of riots in jails across the state.
The deadliest riot series where held a year ago, September 13 and 17th, after prison guards brutally murdered a 19 year-old inmate at the Tijuana penitentiary.
After the news spread across the 9 thousand inmates held in the jail, riots erupted, 23 people where killed and some buildings where put on fire.
Since then, the Hongo Penitentiary has been expanded, in search of lowering jail overcrowding to 22%, the new buildings include 12 spaces for factories in order to attract companies to employ inmates.
There is a proposal to send inmate to their states of origin and Public Safety Secretary Daniel de la Rosa Anaya announced 220 new guards have joined the state ranks.
But authorities are reluctant to address or even admit the series of documented abuses in state jails.
“In regards to [allegations of abuse] we have to remember many of them [inmates] are against law and order, and they argue abuse in hopes of gaining privileges and status and that is just not going to happen” said De La Rosa.
Human rights activist and SDSU professor Víctor Clark Alfaro, considers lack of access to justice and human rights abuses the very center of the rioting behavior, both issues need to be addressed along with the decongesting of state jails.
“The abuse and mistreatment of inmates is a determining factor in these cases” said Clark, “you can have an overcrowded jail but if the director and guards have a decent treatment inmates will respond to that. But you have severe overcrowding and you add torture, corporal punishment and rotten food, and authorities are feeding the fire that leads to a riot”.