El Salvador builds Latin America’s largest prison

Key words: El Salvador; state of exception; gangs; prison conditions.

On 3 February 2023, the Salvadoran government opened the largest prison in Latin America. The compound has a capacity for up to 40,000 inmates, is called the Centre for Terrorism Confinement and is located in a rural area 47 miles from San Salvador.

It covers 165 hectares of land and the structure itself covers 23 hectares. The compound has eight electric sub-stations, two water wells, a sewage treatment plant, three miles of access roads and 19 watchtowers with many thermal surveillance cameras. As the cells have toilets and large water basins for washing, inmates will be allowed out only for hearings and to go to the prison infirmary. “No yards have been built, nor recreation area for the inmates, nor conjugal spaces,” Public Works Minister Romero Rodriguez said.

Everyone who enters the facility – including the guards and other staff – must pass through a body scanner to verify that he or she is not carrying a weapon or other contraband. “Normally, telephones, televisions and even prostitutes entered the prisons,” Rodriguez said. “We have tried to guarantee that orders to murder Salvadorans are no longer given from inside the prisons.”

President Nayib Bukele declared a state of excepetion in March 2022 because of the high levels of violence perpetrated by the Salvadoran gangs and since then, his allies in congress have voted every month to renew the state of exception. The state of emergency entails the suspension of constitutional guarantees and allows police to detain people without warrants and in the absence of grounds that would stand up to judicial scrutiny.

Nearly 63,000 people with gang connections have been arrested, according to the government, but families of many detainees say that their loved ones were law-abiding citizens. Many organisations and human rights advocates have described the arrests as a massive human rights violation.


  • Latin America News Dispatch, 6 February 2023, El Salvador.
  • Sara Acosta, 3 February 2023, ‘El Salvador builds largest prison in the Americas’, EFE Online News Editor.

See also other entries into the TVOD website for this month [February 2023]:

  • Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad CIS), ‘What the ‘state of exception’ means in El Salvador’.
  • El Salvador Solidarity Network (ESNET), ‘El Salvador’s State of Exception’