“We should have more schools and fewer prisons,” President López Obrador said today while announcing that the Islas Marías prison will become an arts center.
A federal prison has operated on one of the four islands in the Islas Marías archipelago, located about 100 kilometers off the coast of Nayarit, since 1905 when dictator Porfirio Díaz sent political prisoners to work in the islands’ salt mines.
Over the years, the prison population has fluctuated from 300 to 3,000.
The president said the island prison has been a symbol of oppression and the site of human rights violations.
He said it currently houses 600 low-risk inmates, 200 of whom will be released. The other 400 will be transferred to prisons closer to their home states. Prison employees will also be transferred.
“The island will be transformed into a center for the arts, for culture, and to learn about the environment and nature, and the flora and fauna of these and other islands,” López Obrador said.
The Islas Marías were declared a biosphere reserve in 2000 and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005.
The president recalled that former South African leader Nelson Mandela spent most of his 27-year imprisonment on an island penal colony not unlike the Islas Marías. He told reporters that the islands would present an opportunity to learn from the past.
“This will become an island for children and young people, with camps for them to learn about how these models of punishment must disappear.”
Environment Secretary Josefa González Blanco Ortíz explained that activities will include hiking, wildlife watching, sports, theater, writing classes and literature workshops. One particular work to be studied will be Walls of Water by José Revueltas, who was once imprisoned at Islas Marías.
CORRECTION: The photo that initially appeared with this story was not Islas Marías, but Alcatraz. We regret the error.