7 security rings, 15 electrical fences, 19 watchtowers, a perimeter wall 11 metres high, 600 soldiers, and 250 police officers. All of these things are features of El Salvadors new « Centro de Confinamiento del Terrorismo », or the Terrorism Confinement Centre. Built on a 165 hectare plot of land, the prison itself covers 23 hectares. By size, it is the largest in Latin America, and one of the largest in the world. It has an internment capacity of 40,000 people, which more than doubles the capacity El Salvador had previously of 30,000 in 2021.
The increase in capacity is needed desperately as El Salvador has arrested a whopping 62,000 people in connection with gang activity since declaring a state of emergency in March of 2022. The state of emergency allows police to arrest people without need for a warrant. For contrast, at the end of 2021 El Salvador had 35,976 inmates. La Esperanza, the nations largest prison before now, had a capacity of 10,000. It presently holds 33,000 people, more than triple its intended capacity.
The massive amount of arrests and this new prison are both parts of the governments massive, and largely successful, fight against crime, mostly perpetuated by rampant gangs. El Salvador was once the most unsafe nation in Latin America. The worst was in 2015 when the nation recorded 6,656 murders. In the past few years the government has began cracking down on rampant gang activity, primarily the infamous MS-13. The effort has been largely spearheaded by President Nayib Bukele, who was elected in 2019. Though his efforts have been subject to accusations of authoritarianism and controversy as to potential human rights abuses, he maintains large amounts of popularity among Salvadorans.
Government crackdowns brought 2022’s murder count down to a recorded 495 homicides. So far in 2023 between January 1st and February 5th only 12 murders have been recorded. Comparatively, the same period in 2022 saw 93 murders. If the trend continues El Salvador will end 2023 with 122 murders, at a rate of 1.9 per 100k people. A striking difference to the United States, who in 2020 had a rate of 6.52 per 100k people.
Nearly 2% of El Salvadors adult population is incarcerated, their incarceration rate is the worlds highest.
The new prison, which was completed after 7 months of construction, also contains within it several factories that will be staffed by inmates. The crude nature of its construction, it’s strict rules that say troublemakers end up in absolute darkness confinement cells, it’s size, as well as the factories has drawn criticism that Bukele’s approach will not rehabilitate prisoners, and thus wont change things in the long term.
On February 1st President Bukele was given a tour of the facility. It’s laid out in seven security rings, with the fences, and regular patrols. He was shown the varying facilities, and the confinement cells. He posted a video of the tour on twitter.
El Salvador ha logrado pasar de ser el país más inseguro del mundo, al país más seguro de América.
¿Cómo lo logramos?
Metiendo a los criminales en la cárcel.
¿Podrán dar órdenes desde adentro?
Una obra de sentido común. pic.twitter.com/WXiYohGkd4
— Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) February 2, 2023
« El Salvador has managed to go from being the most insecure country in the world to the safest country in the Americas.
How did we do it?
Putting criminals in jail.
There is space?
Will they be able to give orders from inside?
Can they escape?
A work of common sense. », it reads.