But by focusing on the role overcrowding played in the Zetas riot and escape, is the Mexican government missing the bigger picture in terms of prison reform?
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
The Mexican government announced they will build eight new federal prisons this year as a response to the recent massacre and prison break by the Zetas in Nuevo Leon. This may be a necessary step in the short term, but more deep-seated issues remain:
1) The expansion does little to fundamentally rethink the prison problem. The prison population in Mexico is increasing dramatically and it doesn't seem likely to slow down any time soon. Building eight or even 20 new prisons may ease the burden for now, but those institutions will eventually be overcrowded too.
2) Building more prisons does nothing to deal with problems related to pretrial detention. If 70 percent of people in some Mexican state prisons are awaiting court dates, it seems that Mexico may need to focus on additional courts and judges more so than new prisons.
3) How will they safely and effectively staff the new prisons? The recent massacre showed that Zetas bribed several dozen prison guards at a single prison, and given this how does Mexico expect to staff more prisons and avoid that sort of corruption in the future? It doesn't do any good to build eight new prisons if the prison system as a whole is broken and serves as an organizational base for the criminal groups.