Amnesty International has asked to meet with accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera at the Manhattan federal jail where he is awaiting trial to assess whether he is being mistreated or prison conditions are too severe.
The request, revealed in a letter from Guzman’s defense team to Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, is the latest salvo over tight security and restrictions on visitors for the alleged drug trafficker who twice escaped prisons in Mexico, once through a mile-long tunnel.
Justin Mazzola, a deputy director at Amnesty, said in a March 28 letter to prosecutors that conditions may be “unnecessarily harsh” and “breach international standards for humane treatment” at the Metropolitan Correctional Center’s Special Housing Unit, used over the years for accused terrorists, mobsters and gang members.
He said lights are on 24 hours a day, Guzman is confined to a tiny windowless cell for 23 hours a day with only an hour of exercise, he hasn’t been allowed visits or calls with his wife or other family members, and he can’t communicate with guards because they don’t speak Spanish.
“There is a considerable body of evidence…that prolonged isolation can cause serious psychological and physical harm, particularly if accompanied by other deprivations such as lack of information about the outside world, confinement to an enclosed space and inadequate exercise,” Mazzola wrote.
Guzman was extradited from Mexico to the U.S. in January to face charges that he employed murder, kidnappings and savage violence to run a billion-dollar international cocain trafficking ring.
The government has contended that the tight security and restrictions on communications with his wife and family are needed because in addition to the escapes, Guzman was able to continue to run his Sinaloa Cartel drug operations from prison through intermediaries.
An Amnesty spokeswoman said Guzman’s lawyers asked the group, which has previously criticized conditions at the Manhattan jail, to get involved. His public defenders claim the restrictions are so tight that the accused drug kingpin has been unable to access money to hire a private lawyer, and is in psychological and physical distress.