Drug Traffickers Move At Least ¢800 Million A Year In The Prisons

The Ministry of Justice has no budget dedicated exclusively to the treatment of drug addiction of inmates


The fact that 87% of the criminal population in the country has had contact with illegal drugs, causes traffickers to see prisons as an ideal market for their product.

This is evidenced by the fact that, in 2016, drug traffickers moved at least ¢800 million colones (US41.4 million dollars) of illegal drugs throughout the penitentiary system, according to the latest report by the Instituto Costarricense Sobre Drogas (ICD) – Costa Rican Institute on Drugs.

The report specifies that there were 3,305 seizures of marijuana, crack and cocaine. In total authorities seized 130 kilos of marijuana, 38,000 crack rocks and 24 kilos of cocaine. Tha amount, fear authorities, is only a small portion of the total that moves in the country’s penitentiaries.


According to estimates by the Dirección de Policía Penitenciaria – the Prison Police – a “punta de coca” sells for about ¢5,000 colones; a marijuana cigarette and a rock are worth each ¢1,000 colones.

Breakdown of the illegal drug market in the Costa Rica prison system. Infograph by La Nacion from date by the ICD

According to the report, the San Sebastian jail (in San Jose) is where the most marijuana was seized; the most crack at the Vilma Curling Rivera Prison (for women); and cocaine, in La Reforma prison.

This, despite the fact that, the Centro de Formación Juvenil Zurquí – Zurquí Youth Training Center for minors – has the highest seizure rate per 100 inmates.

The ICD described illegal drugs as a “precious element” within the prison system.

Why? Prisoners are said to consume drugs as a way out the feeling of isolation, prison overcrowding, and the frustrations they have to deal with in prison.

The report notes that the majority of inmates say they consume drugs to “escape problems”, followed by “to calm nerves” and “to feel good”.

The overcrowding of prisons is one of the reasons inmates turn to illegal drugs, according to the ICD report

“Immersed in a crowded and hostile environment and not having with what to occupy their time produces in a prisoner a sense of emptiness, frustration and anxiety, with the risk of falling into drug addiction or, well, accentuating it,” notes the report.

This is a concern for authorities, especially the Ministerio de Justicia (Ministry of Justice) which has no budget dedicated exclusively to the treatment of drug addiction of inmates.

The Director of Adaptacion Social-  Prison Authority, Luis Mariano Barrantes, says at the moment only the Calle Real jail in Liberia, Guanacaste, has a therapeutic community that promotes abstinence in the 42 prisoners at the center.

The rest of the prisons makes use of self-help groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.

Drug traffickers see prisons as an ideal market for their product

The director added that they (authorities) recognize there is a “very active drug market” in the prisons, but lack of budget limits actions to combat it.

At the moment, a ‘superficial’ patting down of visitors and frequent searches of cell blocks is allowed by regulation, not enough to detect the smuggling of illegal drugs into the prisons.

“As it often happens, if the drugs are carried vaginally or anally, it is difficult to detect it. We are unable to do a thorough search because it would affect the fundamental rights of visitors,” said Barrantes.