SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – Salvadoran authorities have opened one of the largest prisons in Latin America, doubling the country’s incarceration capacity, as a government crackdown on criminal gangs drives the prison population skyrocketing.
The 40,000-capacity terrorism containment center was inaugurated on Tuesday to help relieve some of the overcrowding in the country’s prison system.
Since President Nayib Bukele asked the country’s congress to approve a state of emergency in March, the police and army have arrested more than 62,000 suspected gang members and their collaborators.
Under the measure, certain constitutional rights were suspended, including allowing authorities to make warrantless arrests and giving the government access to citizens’ communications.
With nearly two percent of its adult population behind bars, El Salvador has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
The increase in the prison population following the anti-gang measures, which the vast majority of the population supports, has stretched the country’s already overstretched prison system. El Salvador’s largest prison, La Esperanza, currently holds 33,000 people despite having a capacity of 10,000.
El Salvador prisons director Osiris Luna said the new prison will span 166 hectares (410 acres), while 600 soldiers and 250 police will secure it.
“All those home boys, those terrorists of the organization who made our beloved Salvadoran people suffer, will be locked up and subjected to a harsh regime,” Luna told state television.
As of 2021, El Salvador’s prison system had 20 prison centers with a capacity of 30,000 people holding 35,976 prisoners.
(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Sandra Maler)