Deadly violence within female prisons in Honduras is rare but a spate of recent murders in a prison is a warning that underestimating the role of women within gang and prison structures could be costly.
In June an alleged Barrio 18 gang member was strangled by her cellmates within the National Women’s Penitentiary for Social Adaptation near the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, La Tribuna reported.
The violent incident came just weeks after a group of alleged Barrio 18 members set fire to the prison and stabbed and killed six suspected rival gang members in the MS13.
Four of the victims had been at the prison for three days after being captured by Honduras’ National Anti-Gang Force in Tegucigalpa, where they had extorted local shopkeepers. The murders reportedly occurred with the prison director’s knowledge, according to statements from various inmates in a video that made the rounds in the media days later.
“The prison director didn’t do a thing. She saw when the gang members murdered these women, but why didn’t she speak up?” said one of the inmates. Another attempted uprising in the prison occurred the day the video circulated, but nobody was killed. The female prison’s inmate population is nearly double its capacity.
Gang violence, just like bribing prison authorities and other forms of control, are common in Honduras’ male prisons where they have provoked various bloody battles between the MS13 and Barrio 18.
However, until now, it was unusual to see this type of violence in female prisons, including in El Salvador and Guatemala, where there’s also a sizable presence of jailed female gang members and collaborators.
If women associated with gangs in Central America’s Northern Triangle haven’t shown the same level of violence and control within prisons as their male counterparts, the brutal killings in Tegucigalpa show this may be changing.