• Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria
  • Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño
  • Enrique Gil Botero
  • Margaretta Paulo Vannuchi, Elizabeth Abi-Mershed


  • Mexico

  • M

    Maria Sirvent of the Human Rights Institute of Ignacio Ellacuría (IDIHIE) stated that Mexico has falsely purported to be remedying substandard conditions in the prison system by opening up funding and development to private entities. She asserts that the American Correctional Association’s (ACA) private prison model has been imported to Mexico, but the other countries which have implemented these models, including the United States, have questionable results. She urged that the Mexican government has prioritized profit and security over human rights.

    Sirvent introduced a relative of an incarcerated person in Mexico, who wanted to be identified as A Representative of the Mothers of la Plaza de Luis Pasteur. She recounted experiences of her family member in an ACA accredited prison, stating that when she visits him, he is chained from his hands to his feet; and that he is forced to spend 23 hours per day inside his cell, only being allowed one hour on the patio outside. According to her, the food has no nutritional value, the incarcerated family member is provided only one cup of water per day, and medical attention is of very low quality.

    Petitioners reported that ACA authorities visited several prisons in April 2011, to evaluate the application of ACA standards in accredited prisons. In Mexico to date, twelve state prisons, five federal prisons, three adolescent detention centers, and the National Academy of Penitentiary Administration have received ACA accreditation. However, the National Commission of Human Rights in Mexico has found that ACA accredited prisons in Mexico have insufficient custodial capacity, access to medical facilities and food, ability to prevention of violent incidents, and that humiliating treatment, corruption, self-government are commonplace. Petitioners also mentioned that personal interviews with inmates conducted by regulatory authorities are optional under ACA.

    Petitioners demanded that the Mexican government (1) improve transparency regarding private-public contracts; (2) investigate human rights violations of adult and minor persons deprived of liberty; (3) investigate the possible conflict of interest regarding private contracting and the correctional program; (4) guarantee the independent supervision of the new penal law by civil society organizations; (5) allow civil organizations to interview inmates; and (6) guarantee the safety of the petitioners, prisoners, family members of the prisoners, and human rights defenders in Mexico.

    Eduardo Guerrero, representative of the National Security Commission of Mexico responded on behalf of the State by affirming that Mexico’s transition to private-public funded prisons both bolsters national security and promotes improved conditions for inmates.

    Guerrero noted that from 2007 and 2012, in response to overpopulation of prisons, the Mexican government launched a program of penal reform with the objectives of converting state prisons from low- to medium-security, and to implement a model of penal standards incorporating private service contracts. The State extended an invitation to the petitioners and other organizations to visit any or all of the prisons, acknowledging they that may find some defects, but assuring they will also find advances in the treatment of prisoners. Guerrero emphasized that there are no human rights violations and that only one prison in Mexico is currently overpopulated.

    Commissioner Esmeralda de Troitiño pointed out that the Mexican Government did not respond to allegations of assault against women in prisons, and asked the representatives of Mexico to state its stance on these allegations. In the three minutes Mexican representatives had to respond to several of the commissioners’ inquiries, they did not address this question.

    Commissioner Cavallaro pointed out that while the State has acknowledged both the standards of the ACA and the Mandela rules, they have failed to establish which of the many standards they have effectively implemented. Moreover, the State must produce substantial results that provide for the human rights of persons deprived of liberty in the Mexican prison system.

    Author Analysis

    Pursuant to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs), States should provide adequate accommodation (Articles 9-14), adequate hygienic conditions (Articles 15, 16), adequate and nutritional food (Article 20), and access to exercise and open air (Article 21), among other minimum conditions. The Standards are not binding, but are accepted as one of the only internationally recognized set of guidelines that States should adhere to.

    While the Mandela Rules, introduced in 2015 as a revision to the SMRs, are not legally binding, they provide a modern and more complex framework for respecting the human rights of persons deprived of their liberty. The Mandela Rules further specify the importance of respecting prisoners’ dignity, providing more detailed protections against torture and solitary confinement.

    The Mexican Government should adhere to these standards as the internationally accepted model for treatment of prisoners.