Mexico closes infamous island prison

Latin America

Mexico has closed down a prison on an island some 100 kilometers off its Pacific Coast. More than 500 inmates living there were either transferred to other prisons or set free.

CGTN’s Franc Contreras made the journey to the island to learn what became of this infamous prison.

The Islas Marias federal prison was built in 1905. Few outsiders have ever seen it until now. CGTN recently visited the isolated prison island located 110 kilometers off Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

For decades, authoritarian governments sent political dissidents to the Islas Marias. It’s most well-known prisoner was writer Jose Revueltas, who wrote a novel there called “Walls of Water.”

In a presidential decree, Mexico this month transferred 584 prisoners to mainland jails. The government granted freedom to dozens of other inmates.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he closed down the infamous island prison as a symbolic act of social justice commemorating his first 100 days in office.

Over the decades, the remote Mexican island has been home to tens of thousands of inmates and public servants working inside Mexico’s penal system.

Psychologist Santiago Jorge Contreras worked with inmates there since the late 1980s. He recalled the story of one inmate, who tried swimming to freedom.

“He strapped on plastic floating devices and swam to a nearby island. But he became violently ill after eating raw iguana. Guards later found his skeletal remains,” Contreras said.

Most Mexicans knew of this remote penal colony because it appeared in films, including one with actor Pedro Infante.

An empty playground is a small reminder that mostly low-risk inmates were once allowed to bring their families to live there. However, that’s the past. The four islands making up the tropical archipelago will be transformed into a a cultural and environmental education center.