Mexico’s government announced on Monday March 11th, it has transferred all the inmates from the infamous Islas Marias prison, the last island penal colony in a hemisphere once dotted with remote island jails like the one depicted in the movie “Papillon.”
About 584 of the prisoners have been moved to mainland jails in the northern border state of Coahuila, and 68 were taken elsewhere or released.
The federal government said Monday that 88 visitors – 16 of whom lived there – were also flown out aboard 21 flights starting Friday. The wives of six inmates and 10 of their children had lived on the island for years.
Families were allowed to live with some of the mostly low-risk inmates at the some of the five camps scattered throughout the main island.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the islands will be turned into a cultural and environmental education center. The four islands – only one of which is inhabited – are located 70 miles (110 kilometers) off the Pacific coast of Nayarit state.
Lopez Obrador celebrated the closure as one of the main achievements of his first 100 days in office. “I chose the closing of the Islas Marias penal colony as a symbolic act to commemorate these 100 days,” he said Monday.
Ramon Ojeda Mestre, who headed a campaign to recover the islands’ environment 15 years ago, said Monday “Finally. At last. A disastrous stage has ended.”
“Now what we need is a slow recovery, in which environmental rationality should prevail.”
Inmates, for example, had trapped native parrots to sell, and caught boa constrictors to make into belts.
The prison, founded in 1905 by the then president Porfirio Díaz, passed through periods of infamous brutality. When Panama closed its Isla Coiba penal colony in 2004, Isla Marias became the last one remaining in the Americas.
Lopez Obrador said the new Islas Marias cultural center will be named after Jose Revueltas, a novelist who was imprisoned there and wrote the novel “Walls of Water.”
“Jose Revueltas must be happy, wherever he is, because this site, these islands will become camps for young people to visit these islands and get to know and protect nature,” Lopez Obrador said Monday.
As recently as 2013 the colony had held 8,000 inmates.
Far from the bloody reputation of places like Devil’s Island – the French Guiana penal colony shuttered in 1946 – toward the end, the Islas Marias harbored many lower-risk or well-behaved inmates and the colony was viewed as step toward release or rehabilitation.
While the prison kept mass tourism at bay, the islands suffered severe environmental degradation from over a century of use as a penal colony.
Island penal colonies were used around the world starting in the 1700s as remote, escape-proof places to “rehabilitate” inmates through hard labor.
Often known as “prisons without bars,” with the ocean serving as the most effective barrier to escape, the penal colonies were also known for being at least in part self-supporting and a way to settle remote islands.
But in the end, the Islas Marias wound up costing Mexico far more per prisoner than did mainland jails.
Chile closed its Santa Maria prison island in the late 1980s, Costa Rica’s Isla San Lucas penal colony closed in 1991 and Brazil’s Isla Grande in 1994. Peru dramatically ended its El Fronton island prison in 1986: Gunboats blew up most of the buildings to put down a riot, killing more than 100 inmates.
Source: Miami Herald