Members of the notoriously violent MS-13 gang are “so feared” in El Salvador that they are allowed to run their own detention facility, with the prison guards and the Salvadoran army ensuring that they remain incarcerated from the outside, reports Daily Mail.
“They are drug pushers, murderers and weapons dealers – members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), a gang so feared in El Salvador that they have been left to run their own prison,” states the article.
In 2013, British photographer Adam Hinton was granted access to the prison, called Penas Ciudad Barrios, and the area where their families live, known as Las Victorias and located in the country’s capital of San Salvador.
“The men stand around aimless with nothing to do except kill what seem like an infinity of minutes, hours and days,” Hinton told Daily Mail.
“The vast majority of the inmates are from the Barrios or slums. In El Salvador this is a place without hope or opportunity and the gang is the only real option,” he added. “If the authorities catch you this is the place they literally dump you and forget about you – every inmate is made to feel just like that.”
The estimated 2,500 inmates are running their own small society inside the prison walls, “complete with a bakery, workshops, a hospital and rehab,” it adds.
Penas Ciudad Barrios, located in San Salvador, is considered a maximum security prison exclusively housing gang members affiliated with Mara Salvatrucha.
The facility, described as a “squalid gangland prison” by Daily Mail, was originally built to keep 800 prisoners.
Nevertheless, it now houses around 2,500 MS-13 gang members.
“The prison guards and the El Salvadorian army remain on the outside, ensuring that the prisoners stay behind bars, but doing very little to meddle in affairs on the other side of the gates,” reports Daily Mail.
In response to the escalating gang-related violence afflicting El Salvador, the country’s Supreme Court recently designated criminal gangs, including MS-13 and its rival Barrio 18, as terrorist groups due to their “systematic attacks to life, security and personal integrity of the population.”
The ruling grants Salvadoran authorities greater ability to take on the criminal organizations as the violence continues to spiral out of control, recently reaching historic levels.
El Salvador’s Supreme Court “upheld and expanded El Salvador’s 2006 Special Law Against Terrorist Acts on Monday to define as terrorists any group that threatens the country with legitimate violence, such as gangs, as opposed to standard international definitions of the term ‘terrorist,’” reports United Press International (UPI).
In August, El Salvador experienced the highest number of murders since its bloody 12-year civil war ended in the early 1990s.
There were 911 homicides in August, with 52 occurring on August 23 alone, making it the deadliest month in nearly 25 years, Daily Mail reports, citing the National Forensics Institute, known by its Spanish acronym ILM.
“From January to August, El Salvador recorded 4,246 homicides, an average of 17.5 a day, and up 67 percent on the same eight-month period in 2014,” adds the report.
Since a 2012 truce between the country’s most feared gangs — MS-13 and Barrio 18 — began to break down last year, violence has surged in El Salvador.
“The truce had helped reduce the Central American nation’s murder rate in mid-2013 to around five per day, a 10-year low,” notes Daily Mail.
According to United Nations statistics, El Salvador is one of the world’s most violent countries, with a 2012 murder rate of 41.2 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
El Salvador is expected to overtake Honduras this year as the deadliest and most violent country in the world.
Leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has vowed that if he is elected as commander-in-chief of the United States, he will deport gang members before all other illegal immigrants.
In a spar over illegal immigration with self-professed Spanish-language journalist Jorge Ramos, Trump said, “The one thing we’re going to start with, immediately, are the gangs, and the real bad ones…Those people are out. They’re going to be out so fast your head will spin, all right?”
MS-13 and its rival Barrio 18 were founded in the Los Angeles area by Salvadoran immigrants, and have since been brought back to their home country following the deportation of its members by U.S. authorities.