Contributor(s)Liga Mexicana por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos | Prison Insider

The penitentiary system

There are 379 criminal centres throughout the country: 21 federal centres (12 in the Federal District), 284 state centres, and 74 municipal centres. Six prisons are of “high security” with meter-thick walls, automated doors, closed circuit televisions, etc.

The Prevention and Reinsertion Centres (Ceresos) correspond to the local jurisdiction (state and municipal centres) and the Federal Centres for Social Reinsertion (Ceferesos) to the federal jurisdiction.

Total capacity is 197,993 people. However, this figure takes into account the number of beds available, not square meters per inmate. The UN Special Rapporteur noted this figure does not reflect actual overcrowding, since centres have beds which are piled up in very small spaces. There was between 120 % and 260 % overcrowding in centres like La Mesa in Tijuana and NezahualcoyotlBordo in the state of Mexico, even though all inmates had a bed.

Thirty-one penitentiaries were closed in 2013 due to poor infrastructure, overcrowding and violence. Twenty-one federal centres and four state centres are under construction. The Mexican State began a process of privatization of penitentiary centres in 2012. Currently, the scheme, called “Service Delivery Contracts” (CPS), is applicable in five centres 1.

The Mexican government decided to strengthen security and expand the infrastructure of social rehabilitation centres of the federal system (Ceferesos). This decision was made following the escape of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. 1.2 billion pesos (USD 72 million) are being invested in improving the security of 15 hectares of penitentiary centres, which are home to 1,110 federal prisoners.

Fifteen state prisons, six superiors, three juvenile centres and the Prison Administration Academy have received accreditation from the American Correctional Association (ACA). However, the CNDH says that there is still overpopulation, corruption and violence in those centres and that access to food and medical care is deficient.

Number of institutions with private management


Number of available places for prisoners


/ World Prison Brief

Federal centres depend on the Federal Public Security Secretariat. Local law is subdivided into two categories: state penalties and municipal penalties. The State and Federal District centres depend on the Secretariats of Government of each state. The municipal centres depend on the corresponding Municipal Public Safety Secretariat.

According to the “National Diagnosis of Prison Supervision 2014”, carried out by the CNDH, a model of self-government is exercised in 71 state prisons. This implies that inmates who imposed themselves by the use of violence, take control of common spaces, possess the keys to the cells and compel other inmates to pay in order to access certain rights (space to sleep, calls, receive visits, entrance to the toilet, among others). In certain prisons, these inmates own weapons and sell drugs. The main causes of this phenomenon are overcrowding, lack of staff and low staff salaries.