Prison Imperialism


Sign the Petition to Stop Prison Imperialism!

The United States is spreading its model of mass incarceration around the world.

The US has the highest rate of incarceration on the planet, with 2.2 million people in jail and 4.5 million on parole or probation. While crime rates have been falling, sentences have been toughened and new jails built. The majority of those incarcerated are poor and lack high school diplomas. Two thirds of those imprisoned are of African, Latin American or indigenous heritage.This system clearly targets oppressed nations and ethnicities and the poor. Social control via coercion is the alternative to social investment. In the face of economic and ecological crises, police are militarized and penitentiaries raised while schools are closed.

This same situation is reflected in US activities abroad. The US government is exporting mass incarceration to at least 23 different countries, mainly to majority non-White and/or “developing” nations. Some of the nations where the US is helping build prisons or providing training and accreditation include Colombia, Mexico, Honduras, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Haiti and Saudi Arabia. Funding is provided as part of the “War on Drugs”. These programs begin in 2000 when the US Embassy in Colombia signed a cooperation agreement with Colombia’s Ministry of the Interior. Since that date, Colombian prisons have registered the highest rate of overcrowding in modern history.

The Alliance for Global Justice calls these international incarceration programs his Prison Imperialism. We use that phrase because it is our model that we are exporting around the world. More so, we recognize that prison imperialism along with foreign occupations and military bases, and police and border militarization, are all part of the infrastructure of Empire and exploitation.

We hope to help build international bridges among those resisting Empire and struggling for the liberation of Prisoners of Empire. For more information, contact James Jordan at or 202-540-8336, ext. 3.

Political Prisoners in the USA

 This document, which was first published on September 11, 2013, was updated on April 5, 2017 and will be going through further updating over the coming weeks as well as being translated into Spanish. We want to acknowledge Stan Smith and the Chicago Committee to Free the Five (773-376-7521, for initiating this project and compiling the original list. WE NEED YOUR HELP! This list is an ongoing…

Urgent Call for Solidarity with Oaxaca’s Teachers Union

The Alliance for Global Justice denounces the brutal repression on June 19, 2016 against striking teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico that has left 12 teachers and students dead. They were killed by federal, state and local police who fired on unarmed, nonviolent demonstrators. According to a report by Telesur, the dead include 10 in Nochixtlan, one…

The Guantanamo of Colombia: Pressure Mounts to Shut Down Notorious US-Funded Prison


Originally published in Upside Down World Written by John Ocampo Friday, 29 January 2016 14:29 Photo: Inside La Tramacua prison. Image via Radio Macondo SIGN THE PETITION TO CLOSE LA TRAMACÚA, COLOMBIA’S US FUNDED TORTURE PRISON! The campaign to shut down Colombia’s infamous Establecimiento Penitenciario y Carcelario de Alta y Mediana Seguridad de Valledupar “La Tramacua”…

Message from Hubert Ballesteros, Colombian unionist and political prisoner, to North American labor and solidarity activists

Hubert "Huber" Ballesteros meets with AfGJ delegates and farming families in Cauca, Colombia

Originally published in Fight Back! News Versión en español The following message is a response to a series of questions posed to Hubert Ballesteros by James Jordan of the Alliance for Global Justice. Ballesteros was arrested while negotiating for the National Agrarian Strike of 2013 and charged with Rebellion. He was also serving on the…

Close Colombia’s La Tramacúa, US Funded and Designed Prison


Empire of Prisons: How the United States is Spreading Mass Incarceration around the World

by James Jordan


This article explains how the United States is exporting its model of mass incarceration and social and political control to at least 25 countries. This “prison imperialism” is rooted in the Program for the Improvement of the Colombian Prison System signed in March, 2000 by the US Embassy and Colombia’s Ministry of Justice. That program coincided with a rapid increase in Colombia’s prison population including a rise in political arrests and the militarization of the prison system. Other aspects of this experience are worsened overcrowding, human rights abuses and unhealthy conditions. Nevertheless, the US-Colombia collaboration has become the standard for prison imperialism around the world with Colombian training programs forming a major component. US involvement in international prison systems is carried out by several government agencies including the Bureau of Prisons, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Pentagon, and the US State Department’s Bureaus of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL), Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) and Consular Affairs, as well as state penal systems. This article provides close-ups of prison imperialism in Colombia, Mexico and Honduras and ends with a discussion of international resistance to the US model by Prisoners of Empire and their allies. Read More….

Imperio de Cárceles: cómo los Estados Unidos está extendiendo el encarcelamiento en masa alrededor del mundo

por James Jordan


Este artículo explica cómo los Estados Unidos están exportando su modelo de encarcelamiento en masa y control social y político hacia al menos 25 países. Este ” imperialismo penitenciario” tiene sus raíces en el Programa de Mejoramiento del Sistema Penitenciario Colombiano firmado en marzo 2000 por la Embajada de EE.UU. y el Ministerio de Justicia de Colombia. Dicho programa coincidió con el rápido aumento de la población carcelaria de Colombia, incluyendo un aumento en las detenciones políticas y en la militarización del sistema penitenciario. Otros aspectos de esta experiencia son el incremento en el hacinamiento, los abusos a los derechos humanos, y las condiciones insalubres. Sin embargo, la colaboración entre Estados Unidos y Colombia se ha convertido en el estándar del imperialismo penitenciario en todo el mundo, y los programas de entrenamiento colombianos forman uno de sus componentes críticos. La involucración de los EE.UU. en sistemas penitenciarios internacionales se lleva a cabo por varias agencias gubernamentales, incluyendo la Oficina de Prisiones de los EE.UU (BOP por sus siglas en inglés), la Agencia de los Estados Unidos para el Desarrollo Internacional (USAID), el Pentágono, y bajo el Departamento de Estado: la Oficina de Asuntos Narcóticos Internacionales y Aplicación de la Ley (INL); la Oficina de la Democracia, los Derechos Humanos y Asuntos Laborales (DRL); y la oficina para Asuntos Consulares. También participan sistemas penitenciarios estatales. Este artículo proporciona una mirada minuciosa al imperialismo penitenciario en Colombia, México y Honduras, y concluye con un examen de resistencia internacional al modelo de los EE.UU que presentan aquellos que son prisioneros del imperio y sus aliados. Para leer mas….

“Prison Imperialism: How the US is Spreading a Repressive Incarceration Model Around the World”

Presentation at the Law and Disorder Conference at Portland State University, May 11, 2014 by James Patrick Jordan, Alliance for Global Justice. (Recorded and produced by Paul Roland) To listen….

US Political Prisoners

A draft list of US political prisoners as of September 11, 2013

U.S.’s Prison Imperialism In The Outskirts of the Empire

by Nasim Chatha

(9/5/12) The longstanding manifestation of the modern United States prison system is increasingly well-recognized: massive numbers of young men of color, victims of the decline of industry, are incarcerated, often deported, and become branded second class citizens for life on release. This aspect of the prison system is part of the social fabric of poor neighborhoods and in inner cities, in communities within powerful metropolises, like Los Angeles and Washington D.C. The racist origins of the modern prison apparatus are reflected in the role it plays today. Millions of people-of-color prisoners and felons are now disenfranchised and permanently relegated to an economic underclass, and in the false discourse of “tough on crime”, to which “tough on immigrants,” is now almost equivalent, poor and middle class whites are pitted against people of color to prevent the formation of a class-based identity.Read more…

USA’s Prison Industrial Complex Moves South of the Border

by Nasim Chatha

The United States today uses an extensive and unprecedented form of imprisonment and policing as social control of its most marginalized communities. It is a unique culture of incarceration: no other country locks up their population to the same degree that we do, nor has so perfected imprisonment as a tool of innocuously perpetuating racial division. (Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow)

Led in large part by William R. Brownfield, the Assistant Secretaryof State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the US is aiding Latin American countries to build “a new penitentiary culture”; a complete package to becoming more completely “American”, involving new prisons, new imprisonment style, and new community policing strategies. Read more….


por Nasim Chatha

Actualmente, los Estados Unidos utilizan una manera extensa y sin precedentes de vigilancia policial y encarcelamiento como control social de sus comunidades más marginadas. Se trata de una cultura única de encarcelamiento: ningún otro país encarcela a su población en la misma medida como lo hacemos nosotros, ni se ha perfeccionado tanto la prisión como herramienta para perpetuar inocuamente la división racial. (Michelle Alexander, El Nuevo Jim Crow)

Dirigido en gran parte por William R. Brownfield, el Asistente Secretario de Estado a cargo de la Oficina de Asuntos Internacionales de Narcóticos y Aplicación de la Ley, Los EE.UU. están ayudando a los países latinoamericanos a construir “una nueva cultura penitenciaria”; un paquete completo de programas para hacer mas completamente “americano” el proceso, incluyendo nuevas cárceles, nuevas formas de encarcelamiento y nuevas estrategias para la vigilancia policial de comunidades. Por mucho tiempo, los EE.UU. han aplicado mano dura en su relación con América Latina, durante décadas apoyando a militares de derecha para proteger sus intereses financieros, luchando contra las supuestas amenazas del comunismo, y también creando programas de “desarrollo” exactamente por las mismas razones. Esta relación militarizada se mantuvo hasta el presente a través de bases militares, alianzas y acuerdos de libre comercio. En los últimos años, la influencia militar de EE.UU. se está filtrando de nuevo en México y América Central, esta vez supuestamente con el fin de luchar contra la violencia de las drogas y para reducir su tráfico. Para leer mas…

The “New Penitentiary Culture”: US Designs for Colombian Jails

How the USAID, Federal Bureau of Prisons and the School of the Americas Have Impacted Colombia’s Prison System

by James Jordan

Amid much talk of human rights and improved conditions for those deprived of liberty, in March of 2000, the US ambassador and Colombia’s Minister of Justice signed the “Program for the Improvement of the Colombian Prison System.” Called the dawning of a “New Penitentiary Culture,” the US government, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), would redesign Colombia’s maximum and medium security institutions, providing millions of dollars in funding, advice and oversight. Central to this restructuring has been the building and expansion of as many as sixteen new jails designed to handle an influx of some 30,000 new inmates—an increase in capacity of more than 40%. The reason cited for building these new jails was to alleviate overcrowding as a necessary first step toward better conditions.

Have conditions improved significantly? Indications are that they have not, and the greater capacity seems to have motivated a surge in arrests and the exercise of social and political control rather than with the alleviation of overcrowding. Read more…

A Visit Inside Colombia’s Most Notorious Prison, La Tramacúa

by James Jordan

I called Raquel Mogollón just minutes after she had come from a rare visit inside the pavilions of Colombia’s most notorious prison, the High Security Penitentiary of Valledupar, commonly known as La Tramacúa. Mogollón is the Chair of the Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ) Colombia Committee and a member of the International Network in Solidarity with the Political Prisoners (INSPP). La Tramacúa was the first prison built with US funding and designed and advised by the US Bureau of Prisons as part of the Program to Improve the Colombian Prison System. After its construction it was touted as a model of a “New Penitentiary Culture”. However, it has become infamous for its terrible conditions including:

  • Access to water an average of only ten minutes a day;
  • Water flow completely cut off for days at a time as a form of collective punishment;
  • Fecal contamination of food verified by the UN High Commission on Human Rights in Colombia, the Health Agency of the Department of César (where Valledupar is located), and various other government and human rights organizations;
  • Repeated incidents of torture, beatings and attacks against the prisoners especially aimed at political prisoners and prisoners of war who are concentrated in units where paramilitary gangs are in control.

Mogollón sounded like she was torn between grief and anger. Read more…

La “Nueva Cultura Penitenciaria”: Los diseños estadunidenses para las prisiones colombianas

Cómo USAID, el Buró Federal de Prisiones y la Escuela de las Américas han impactado el sistema penitenciario colombiano

por James Jordan

En medio de tanta discusión sobre derechos humanos y sobre la mejora de las condiciones de aquellos privados de su libertad, en marzo de 2000, el Embajador de los EEUU y el Ministro de Justicia colombiano firmaron el “Programa para la mejora del sistema penitenciario colombiano.” A través del llamado nacimiento de una “Nueva Cultura Penitenciaria”, el gobierno de los EEUU, a través de la Agencia estadunidense para el Desarrollo Internacional (USAID, por sus siglas en inglés) y el Buró Federal de Prisiones (BOP, por sus siglas en inglés), rediseñarían las instituciones de máxima y mediana seguridad en Colombia, proporcionando millones de dólares en financiamiento, asesoramiento y supervisión. Algo central para la reestructuración ha sido la construcción y expansión de 16 nuevas prisiones diseñadas para manejar una afluencia de 30,000 nuevos presos—un aumento de más del 40% en su capacidad. La razón citada para la construcción de estas nuevas cárceles era para aliviar el hacinamiento como un primer paso necesario para mejorar las condiciones.

¿Han mejorado significativamente las condiciones? Todo indica que no, y la mayor capacidad parece haber motivado un aumento en las detenciones y en el ejercicio del control político y social más que un disminución en el hacinamiento. Para leer mas…

“La Tramacúa”: Colombia’s Abu Ghraib

Part One in a Series on US Designed Repression in Colombia’s Prison System

The name commonly used to refer to the Medium and High Security Penitentiary of Valledupar is “La Tramacúa.” What that name means exactly, no one is certain. But it is a name that is infamous throughout Colombia and has become synonymous with reports of torture, beatings and hellish conditions. It conjures up images similar to what we in the United States imagine when we hear the words “Abu Ghraib” or “Guantanamo.” Unlike those prisons, La Tramacua is not directly staffed by the United States government. It was, however, the first of a series of prisons in Colombia to be designed and overseen by the US Bureau of Prisons. Read more…

“La Tramacúa”, el Abu Ghraib de Colombia

por James Jordan

El nombre comúnmente usado para referirse a la prisión de mediana y máxima seguridad de Valledupar es “La Tramacúa.” Nadie sabe con seguridad lo que el nombre significa. Pero es un nombre tristemente célebre en todo Colombia y se ha convertido en sínonimo de tortura, malos tratos y condiciones infernales. El lugar evoca imágenes similares a las que imaginamos al escuchar las palabras “Abu Ghraib” o “Guantánamo”. A diferencia de esas prisiones, La Tramacúa directamente no tiene personal del gobierno de los Estados Unidos. Sin embargo, fue la primera de una serie de cárceles en Colombia diseñadas y supervisadas por la Oficina de Prisiones de los EEUU.  Read more…

Colombian Prison Hell “Made in USA”

by James Jordan

The Campaign for Labor Rights is very concerned about reports we have been receiving fromColombia’s La Tramacua Penitentiary in Valledupar, department of César. Conditions there aredeplorable, and they got that way with the collusion and collaboration of the United States government. Read More…