Images Give Inside Look Into El Salvador’s Mega Prisons

The Centre for the Confinement of Terrorism (CECOT) is a horrific mega jail in El Salvador. 

Newly released photographs show the overcrowded cells where masked guards keep tabs on thousands of gang members every day. Prisoners at the CECOT are subjected to strict rules that include eating with hands only because knives and forks could be used as deadly weapons. The lights are kept on 24 hours a day. Prisoners are allowed no more than 30 minutes of freedom from their cells each day. 

In the course of one night, just yesterday, under the watchful eye of highly armed guards, this so-called black hole of human rights “welcomed” two thousand additional inmates.

After winning in a landslide in February, with 85% of the vote, and retaining his presidency for another five years, El Salvador’s incumbent president Nayib Bukele has been wildly popular for his authoritarian policies. 

El Salvador was once believed to be the murder capital of the world, but in 2022, after his crackdown, the murder rate dropped 56.8 percent.

The CECOT can house up to forty thousand inmates, spread out over eight sections. The exact number of inmates housed in each section is unknown, and Bukele’s government has been reticent to provide such information. 

Inmates serving 700-year terms are some of the country’s most deadly criminals, including assassins responsible for scores of killings.

Human rights organizations have blasted the prison complex. United Nations officials have characterized it as a concrete and steel pit designed to house inmates indefinitely. There is no death penalty in El Salvador. 

According to a study by the human rights organization Cristosal, 174 prisoners have been brutally murdered or subjected to torture in the past year since President Nayib Bukele began his ruthless crackdown on gangs.