Indigenous inmates at Guachochi. Indigenous inmates at Guachochi. juárez noticias

A jail without drugs, violence or corruption

Guachochi's peaceful population is 100% indigenous

Mexican jails are generally known for corruption, crime and overcrowded conditions but a penitentiary in the northern border state of Chihuahua offers a contrasting picture.


Some empty beds, zero drug consumption and no bribery are features of the Social Reinsertion Center (Cereso) of Guachochi, where about half the inmates actually turned themselves in.

The 253 prisoners share one identifying characteristic: they all belong to indigenous communities. Most — 181 — are Rarámuri while 66 are Tepehuan, three are Guarojío and two, Pimas.

The state penitentiary began operating in January 2015 and was built to house a population of 100% indigenous inmates. Equipped with a kitchen, an artisan’s workshop, a barn, a bakery and a library, the jail has strict security measures, but there’s seldom a need to enforce them.

According to official figures, 98% of the inmates are behind bars for homicide and rape, a percentage hard to find in state or federal penitentiaries elsewhere in Mexico.

“Some have been charged under federal crimes and in their files they have been catalogued as ‘dangerous.’ Then you get to really know them and find out they’re peaceful people,” said the jail’s criminologist, César Payán.

“The jail’s statistics are the opposite of what one could expect. The Rarámuri are very peaceful, and since the jail opened we haven’t recorded a single fight,” said Guachochi’s warden, Juan Martín González.


“I shouldn’t say this, due to our security procedures, but we’re currently using the punishment cell as a temporary storeroom.”

Rosendo Arrazola, 29, a member of the Tepehuan indigenous goup, is in jail for homicide and has been an inmate of the penitentiaries in the state capital Chihuahua and Cuauhtémoc City.

He said Guachochi hasn’t registered a single case of suicide or sexual abuse, and that he has been able to live there in peace. “There are no ranflas here,” he added, using the local slang word for organized crime gangs that control other jails.

Arrazola also said that in his experience indigenous people in other penitentiaries are often enslaved by the other inmates.

For Guachochi’s resident doctor, the reason indigenous people commit crimes is simple: “It’s alcohol. They commit most of their crimes while drunk, and not only from their traditional tesgüino [a type of corn beer]. There’s a large quantity of adulterated spirits are seen throughout the sierra after new roads are opened, said Dr. Roque Hernández.

Of the total inmate population of Guachochi, 60% are 40 years old or younger, and 95% are in jail for alcohol-related crimes.

Warden González explained that violence in the Chihuahua sierra has been caused by warring drug cartels, severely affecting the indigenous communities which had been used to living under their traditional customs.

In recent years, the Rarámuri sierra has seen the arrival of opium poppy plantations, and the locals are often forced to work for the cartels under threats of death. Many have no other option but to flee their ancestral lands.

The Rarámuri equate nature to life and conditions of confinement often overwhelm them, leading to depression, explained Hernández.

“They don’t even attempt an escape because they know they are at fault in their communities. Social standing is all for them. It is shameful to escape, which is why many voluntarily turn themselves in after committing a crime.”

Source: Vice News México (sp), (sp)

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  • James Smith

    empty beds, no corruption, no riots……could that possibly be due to the fact that most of the indigenous in mexican jails are not criminals at all but political prisoners of the mafia controlled gangster mexican government?

    • Steve Galat

      C’mon, Jimboy: What possible interest would Los Pinos have in jailing gentle indigenous (but alcohol-addled) Rarámuri & Guachochi? (By the way, do NOT miss seeing on Netflix Luis Estrada’s “The Perfect Dictatorship.” I don’t know how Los Pinos ever ALLOWED this film to be made at all in Mexico, but it’s SUPERB and totally In Your Face…..a peliculón worthy of Coppola and Scorcese!)

      • James Smith

        haven’t spent much time in chiapas or oaxaca, have you?

        • Steve Galat

          You realize that the article was about Chihuahua, right? As for Chiapas, in 1985 my (then) Canadian-Estonian wife and I took yet another big passenger train trip (no sleeping car on this run), from Buenavista Station (Mexico City) to Palenque CHIAPAS. On the way, we spent time in Vera Cruz & Hotel Mocambo, an aging dowager Roosevelt & Porfirio Diaz spent time in the ’30s steam room or playing cards in the Great Room. Following week, continued on the train to Palenque, arriving at 3 AM. A car from our Hotel el Canada was waiting….”Days of Wine & Roses!”

          • James Smith

            what i do realize is that a lifetime of sniffing the white powder has made your brain mush.

          • Steve Galat

            “Mush,” no. “Besotted”? Yes, but by WINE not cocaine which, por mi desgracia, I haven’t enjoyed since leaving Florida 2 years ago. Hard for an old man who after so many years finally eschews the night life, to find an honest drug dealer. But more to your point, I’m feeling that decades of saturating the remnants of your cerebral cortex with single-malt highland whiskey has made YOU the bitter curmudgeon you are….to which I say “Bravo, Maestro!”

          • James Smith

            thank you for confirming my point. whether by booze or drugs i imagine you are doing very well for yourself to even remember what day it is or where you are at when you wake up in the morning.

          • Steve Galat

            We have this traditional refrán here in Quintana Roo: “Para todo mal, mescal!” (For everything bad, mescal!) “Para todo bien, tambien!” (For everything good, the same!) “Y si no hay remedio, litro y medio (And if there’s no hope, drink a litre and a half!) To your health, Boychik!