Officials said the fight erupted following a dispute between leaders of two rival groups, including one led by a member of the Zetas drug cartel. The 60-year-old penitentiary houses 3,800 inmates, twice its capacity.
Costa Rica’s Justice Minister Cecilia Sánchez Romero was forced this week to defend before the Legislative Assembly the partial release of hundreds of inmates to reduce overcrowding. The program has sparked criticism from various sectors, including the Public Security Ministry.
Their reality is a 4x4-meter cell of cement and iron, where only a few rays of sunlight enter each day and where sleep comes on concrete beds. Among the inmates are leaders of rival drug gangs that have launched a violent turf war in the streets of San José’s southern and western neighborhoods, leaving a toll of 165 deaths in only nine months. Here's a look.
Inside cellblock A-2, simple wooden frame bunks line as much floor space as possible. Inmates, many shirtless in the heat, lounge on their bunks if they’re lucky enough to have a bunk. The cellblock is crowded – designed to hold 40 with 108 living inside – but people squeeze by each other like strangers on a crowded sidewalk. Anything that doesn’t fit on the floor hangs from the ceiling and the walls. “Just wait till nighttime,” says a toothless inmate doing a 30-year sentence who called himself Francisco, “that’s when it gets bad."