SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — Lawmakers approved a package of emergency measures Friday giving the government freer rein to manage this Central American nation's gang-dominated prisons.
The measures make it easier for authorities to transfer inmates between lockups and boost security controls. That includes isolating gangsters and restricting or even suspending prison visits with the exception of their lawyers, who would still have access but under increased scrutiny.
Authorities say jailed gang leaders often continue to order murders, extortion rackets and other criminal operations from behind bars, and some lawyers have effectively acted as messengers for the capos.
The package also gives authorities greater control over telephone traffic inside prisons, and phone companies that don't comply with orders to block cellphone signals around lockups face harsh penalties.
The measures are an extension of steps the government took earlier this week when it transferred 299 jailed gang members from seven prisons to one where they will be held in isolation.
It's all part of a gang crackdown as El Salvador tries to stem a wave of violence that last year resulted in the highest homicide rate for any nation not officially at war.
The emergency package passed with support from all political parties and 83 lawmakers in the 84-seat unicameral Legislative Assembly.
The measure, which would be in effect for one year, was sent to President Salvador Sanchez Ceren for his signature and will be enacted as soon as it is published in the official gazette.