The Islas Marías (“Mary Islands”) are an archipelago of four islands that belong to Mexico. They are located in the Pacific Ocean, some 100 km (62 mi) off the coast of the state of Nayarit. They are part of the municipality (municipio) of San Blas, Nayarit. As of 2011, the islands are still being used as a penal colony, containing the Islas Marias Federal Prison.
The Islas Marías Federal Penal Colony is a penitentiary establishment of the Federal Government of Mexico, administered through the Federal Secretariat of Public Security. It is located on Isla María Madre, the northernmost and largest island in the Marías Islands archipelago.
Built in 1905, under the government of Porfirio Díaz, the prison of las Islas Marías was “the pride of the government” becoming the most modern prison model of its time, “escape proof”, which operated as an alternative to house the delinquents, who due to their profile and background, could not be held in the prison of Lecumberri.
Until 1950 this prison colony was known as a feared detention centre, due to violence, disease, and forced labour. It is calculated that the total number of prisoners to be housed there is above 29,000 .
During the government of Ernesto Zedillo the government decided to modernise the prison system and Islas Marias was deactivated. On 27 November 2003 it was declared a biosphere reserve but with the prison system still existing.
The prison situation in Mexico became so critical that the government announced in 2004 that they were reactivating the Islas Marias prison to transfer 2,500 prisoners from prisons all over the country.
The prison has had at least 76 escapes in the last 25 years of which 29 took place in 1986 alone. According to newspaper reports the causes are minimum vigilance, shortage of guards and equipment. Among the most dangerous to escape were criminals sentenced for drug trafficking, 28 murderers, and kidnappers. Of the 76 escapees from the Islas Marías only 10 have been recaptured. According to one source 95% of the escapes are due to corruption.
- On 25 October 1986, an entire family of kidnappers escaped. The Reyes Servín brothers, from Michoacán, have never been caught.
- On 16 January 2006, three drug dealers managed to escape. These were José Abraham González Salas, Fernando Méndez del Fierro and Luis Rey López Barrera. González Salas and Méndez del Fierro were sentenced in California, United States. Through the program of interchange they were transferred to the state of Michoacán. González Salas had been sentenced to 24 years for traffic of methamphetamines and heroin. Méndez del Fierro had been sentenced to 18 years for possession and distribution cocaine. Coming from San Luis Potosí, López Barrera entered the Islas Marías on 7 October 2000. He had been sentenced to 11 years and three months for possession and transport of marijuana.
- On November 24, 2011, six inmates tried to escape using plastic containers as flotation devices. They were reportedly carried by currents about 60 miles south of the island. A passing boat tipped authorities and they were promptly returned to the island prison.