Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Lurigancho prison: Lima's “high school” for criminality

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 15 January 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:173
  1. Hans Veeken (, public health consultant
  1. Médecins Sans Frontières, PO Box 10014, 1001 EA Amsterdam, Netherlands

    “It is the largest prison in Lima.” Juan, the coordinator of my visit to Lurigancho, says. “There is room for 1600 prisoners, but much more people are being kept inside.”

    “How many?” I ask.

    “Well, the authorities do not even know. Let us assume that there are 6000 people, which at least is the number given by the prisoners themselves—who are accurately keeping count of the number. You shall see that the prison is overcrowded and the prisoners themselves are the boss.”

    My visit to Lurigancho prison in Lima is on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières to see if it can help the prisoners. It sounds strange: prisoners running a prison their way. Once inside the gates I see a prisoner leave his cell, lock the door, and nonchalantly pocket the key. He is going out for lunch within the prison. In Lurigancho the prisoner is indeed the boss.

    Summary points

    Around 6000 prisoners are interned in Lurigancho, which should only accommodate 1600 prisoners

    Inside, the prisoners are “in charge”

    HIV is a time bomb for the prison and local community

    The prisoners are a core transmission group for HIV

    Prostitution, tattooing, and drug misuse are rife in Lurigancho

    A western style fortress

    Lurigancho is located on the outskirts of Lima and comprises around 20 pavilions surrounded by a carefully guarded wall. With its watchtowers the prison looks like a fortress in a western. The prison operates on a simple informal agreement between the prison authorities and the prisoners: the prisoners are not allowed to leave the closely watched precincts, but when inside the prison walls they can do whatever they like. In this way the prison authorities do not have to bother about the prison's organisation. Inside, about 20 unarmed warders oversee the prisoners. The prisoners take care of everything—law and order, cleaning, food, education, …

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