El Salvador opens 40,000-person prison as arrests soar in gang crackdown

SAN SALVADOR, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Authorities in El Salvador have opened one of Latin America's largest prisons, more than doubling the country's incarceration capacity, as a government crackdown on criminal gangs is causing the prison population to soar.

The 40,000-capacity Terrorism Confinement Center was inaugurated on Tuesday to help relieve some of the overpopulation in the country's prison system.

Since President Nayib Bukele asked the country's congress to approve a state of exception in March, the police and army have arrested more than 62,000 suspected gang members and their collaborators.

Under the measure some constitutional rights have been suspended, including allowing authorities to make arrests without a warrant and giving the government access to citizens' communication.

With nearly two percent of its adult population behind bars, El Salvador has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

The rising inmate population as a result of the anti-gang measures, which the vast majority of the population supports, has stretched the country's already overwhelmed prison system. El Salvador's largest prison, La Esperanza, currently holds 33,000 people despite having a capacity of 10,000.

El Salvador's Prisons Director Osiris Luna said the new prison will span over 166 hectares (410 acres), while 600 troops and 250 police officers will secure it.

"All those home boys, those terrorists in the organization that made our beloved Salvadoran people suffer, will be house and subjected to a severe regimen," Luna said on state television.

By 2021, El Salvador's prison system had 20 penal centers with a capacity for 30,000 holding 35,976 prisoners.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Sandra Maler

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