“It is essential for Latin American criminal intelligence to develop the necessary operational activities within strategic spaces such as border crossings and prison systems” - EL PAcCTO
Latin America / Penitentiary systems

“It is essential for Latin American criminal intelligence to develop the necessary operational activities within strategic spaces such as border crossings and prison systems”

22 June 2022

One of the most critical aspects of managing organised crime is the non-deterrent nature of the prison environment, which cannot always be considered an effective tool for dismantling and disrupting criminal structures. In addition, some countries have implemented an incomplete and unfunded repressive plan that has stimulated and is still stimulating crisis conditions within their prison systems.

On the contrary, transnational organised crime has been able to specialise in the infiltration and management of criminal activities and drug trafficking in and from prisons. They thus enjoy immunity and undermine the stability of prison systems. The possibility that Transnational Organised Crime (TOC) continues to direct its illicit activities from inside the prisons means the “compounding” of prisons not only as bases for the planning and organisation of criminal actions and as schools for future criminality, but also for the recruiting, evangelising, radicalising, and training of minor offenders by experienced criminals, thereby guaranteeing such an impressive network advantage that it makes TOC powerful, wealthy, and pervasive where business is concerned.

Prison intelligence, the key to tackling the problem

The fact that the modern concept of prison implies the romantic idea of the prison system as a correction centre for the offender, who serves a sentence and is reintegrated into society, has guided the correctional institution to learn and document in depth, throughout the custodial period, every piece of data relating to the inmates, the events that take place there and the various aspects of the management of the resources (human and material) necessary for its operation.

In fact, to gain control of Persons Deprived of Freedom (PDFs), the information that can be obtained inside a prison is mainly used. To address certain complex criminal phenomena it is essential that the criminal dynamics and osmotic processes related to the “outside world” are also analysed in depth. The common need is to structure internal “prison intelligence” units supported by specific human, training, organisational and material resources.

A useful tool to export to Latin America

Prison intelligence is now considered essential for effective security in and around prisons. Information gathering and the monitoring and scrupulous observation of PDFs are the bases for preventing escapes, riots and criminal activities.

The information gathered via prison intelligence presents not only a warning and an opportunity for the managers and staff affected to take all necessary measures to prevent these events from occurring, but also the possibility that prosecutors can take advantage of information “alternative” to that which can be obtained from outside the prisons.

It is necessary to take into consideration that currently, in Latin America, prison intelligence, and the information obtained from investigations carried out within prisons, has become a very versatile tool that enriches the entire range of investigative sources in the fight against drug trafficking.

The need for structural changes within prisons

Intelligence is most certainly a complex activity made up of multiple interconnected phases, and the introduction of intelligence at the heart of a prison administration process – thereby transforming it into one of the fundamental pillars of the governance of the entire system – requires a profound rethinking of the whole organisation, starting with its very foundations. It requires a radical change in mentality that, starting from the leadership, extends to all decision-making and operational levels of the institution. In fact, the organisation must adopt a proactive approach and focus more on risk analysis. The subsequent and systematic data analysis is what will make it possible to develop effective strategies to prevent and combat certain forms of crime.

Italy is a prime example of the implementation of a proactive intelligence organisation within prisons. In fact, it has one of the world’s most significant – if not the most developed – set of powers as regards the management, prevention and repression of infiltration of organised crime in its prison system. This was developed through a series of regulatory interventions imposed as a result of the sad experience that the Italian State had with terrorism and with the New Organised Camorra. The latter proliferated in Italian prisons and attacked the system precisely from within. Raffaele Cutolo organised his criminal group from prison, from where he increased his fortune and even strengthened his relations, in some cases, with other powers.

Proposals for effective prison intelligence

The Italian prison system provides for a response at various levels, namely:

  • the special circuit, differentiated according to how dangerous the prisoners are and to their membership of the TOC. This enables the communications between the leaders of criminal groups and the so-called free world to be cut off and, therefore, prevents these criminal groups from finding leadership and guidance from prison as they did in the past;
  • the application of alternative measures, which are essential to fight against overcrowding, to guarantee a more effective management of the most dangerous prisoners and to avoid any contact between prisoners involved in organised crime and the so-called ordinary prisoners. This ensures prisons are no longer schools of crime, in which inmates leave far less dangerous than when they enter, and;
  • the distribution of prison policing systems in certain special core areas, which are characterised by a particular professional skill set. We are referring to the Central Prison Police Investigation Unit, which also deals with internal investigations (such as cases of corruption, for example), and the Prison Police’s Mobile Operational Group, which, on a rotational basis, is solely dedicated to, and has exclusive jurisdiction over, prisoners who are under the regime of 41 bis.

Strategic spaces: national borders and prison systems

EL PAcCTO programme shares the Italian experience in cooperation projects. It does this by reporting errors or solutions already made by a country, thus making the learning process of other countries faster. This increases the effectiveness of actions against transnational organised crime. As it presents a transnational threat, and therefore requires a logical and unavoidable effort to interconnect the different defence and security institutions of the countries of the world, it is essential that Latin America’s own criminal intelligence process also develops the necessary operational and proactive activities to contribute to the defence of their own States and those of the rest of the world by adopting strategies to combat transnational crimes in strategic spaces such as border crossings and prison systems.

Knowing that the criminal groups that have control of drug trafficking in Latin America tend to become stronger within the prison system, and in the knowledge that they take advantage of very porous land borders and poorly organised frontier posts, a synergy between anti-drug policies and the articulation between the three European regional cooperation programmes (EL PAcCTO,EUROFRONT, and COPOLAD) becomes essential to optimise the dialogue with partner countries. The three programmes face this threat both comprehensively and from different points of view.

Giovanni Tartaglia

Giovanni Tartaglia Polcini, coordinator of the EL PAcCTO prison systems component


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