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  HOME | Argentina

Argentina Prisons Boost Security amid Criticism over Murder Convict Escapes

BUENOS AIRES – The Argentine government is determined to clamp down on prisoner escapes, and has stepped up security protocols in a maximum security jail housing some of the most publicized drug traffickers, including Colombia “Mi Sangre” and the Lanatta brothers accused of triple murder.

The escape of Martin and Cristian Lanatta and Victor Schillaci, the trio convicted killing three businessmen in the pharmaceutical industry in 2008 over an alleged ephedrine trafficking gang, was a high-profile scandal that gripped the nation for weeks.

The trio escaped from the federal maximum security prison in Ezeiza, considered the safest in the country.

The interest shown in the case prompted prison authorities to open the gates of the Ezeiza prison to the media, though without cameras and on condition that officials remain anonymous.

The flight and recapture of the ephedrine-smuggling trio has exposed the complex web of relationships between drug traffickers, police and politicians in Greater Buenos Aires province.

The three gunmen – now dubbed “public enemy number 1” of Argentina – have been moved to a module III Ezeiza prison cell, a 6-square meter cell reserved for highly conflictive prisoners.

“Although they have no contact with other prisoners or between one another, they are not isolated, just under a system to safeguard physical integrity,” said prison officials.

The three have received medical and psychological care, are granted one hour per day in the yard and have visitation rights, according to officials.

Surveillance cameras now monitor the cells 24-hours per day and the pavilion has established a security guard in each pavilion specifically trained for the role.

Housed in the same boarding module are prisoners Henry de Jesus Lopez Londońo, “Mi Sangre,” or “My Blood,” a Colombian drug kingpin wanted by United States authorities.

Mi Sangre studied law in prison and has repeatedly asked authorities to continue his studies outside the jail.

“It is a strategy to try to get out. It’s not going to work because if it does, he will escape,” a prison official told EFE.

Other Ezeiza prisoners have at one time or another occupied the front pages of Argentine newspapers, including Jorge Mangeri, the building porter charged with killing a teenager and throwing his body into a container, or Mario Segovia, known as the “king in Ezeiza ephedrine.”

Like the other 2,000 inmates, even in public areas they are watched by over 200 cameras, motion sensors and hundreds of officers in the 80-hectares area surrounded by four wire fences, walls and armed surveillance booths.

“Escaping from a federal prison is impossible if the protocols are respected,” said one official.

However the Ezeiza prison has come under fire precisely because authorities could not provide explanations for the numerous break-outs over the years.

Just two years after the prison was first opened in 1999, four prisoners fled their cells through a pipe leading to the city sewer system.

In 2013, 13 prisoners drilled a hole in the 30-centimeter thick concrete floor of their cell, then snuck through four wire fences and managed to avoid triggering any alarm systems.

Later it was revealed the prison’s camera system was not working.

“The human factor is crucial,” an intelligence expert admitted to EFE, recognizing that, on average, prison security of the Argentine federal system does not exceed a score of 6.5 on a scale of one to 10.

But even more worrying for authorities is the more populated prison system in the province of Buenos Aires, which has facilities that do not even meet international safety standards.

In this case, “the security level is just two on a scale of one to 10,” said the expert.

“Everything comes down to the prison management, the human factor,” the expert concluded.


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