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El Salvador reforms penal code, increases jail time for gang members

The reforms will also allow gang members who are minors over 12 to be sentenced as adults

March 31, 2022 3:05pm

Updated: March 31, 2022 4:26pm

El Salvador’s Congress on Wednesday increased jail time for gang members, as the government continues seeks stricter efforts to crackdown on gang violence in the country.

"The state of emergency has been key in the war agains gangs, but we need more legal tools to fight more effectively. That's why I sent new bills to the assembly, which are being approved right now," tweeted El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele.

On Sunday, Bukele declared a state of emergency temporarily suspending constitutional protections, after the country saw a rise in homicides over the weekend. 

The changes to the penal code were approved with 76 votes out of the country’s 84 lawmakers.

With the new penal reforms passed by Congress, gang lords will face sentences of 40 to 45 years in prison, compared to the six of nine year sentences handed out before. Similarly, other gang members will be sentenced 30 to 30 years, compared to the three to five years they faced before the reform. 

The reforms will also allow gang members who are minors over 12 to be sentenced as adults. 

"These reforms are intended to impose harsh penalties for these terrorists who believe they're above authority and play with the lives of Salvadorans," Justice and Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro.

Simply belonging to a gang would mean “an exemplar sentence” for the individual, added Villatoro.

Salvadorean authorities have captured over 3,000 gang members since the president announced the state of emergency, according to Bukele.

Bukele also claimed that the 16,000 gang members who were already in prison would face stricter punishments, including more food rationing, removing their beds, and placing them in confined quarters. 

"This well-known gang member complains that they no longer give him chicken for lunch and that now they only give him beans and tortillas," tweeted Bukele. "It is unfair that Salvadorans buy beans to eat and that those taxes are used to buy chicken for his murderers."

Over the weekend, El Salvador saw a spike in homicide rates, with 89 people killed in four days compared to 79 homicides in all of February. 

There are around 70,000 gang members operating in the country.