El Chapo’s Efforts to Ease Jail Restrictions Fail

El Chapo’s Efforts to Ease Jail Restrictions Fail

Mr. Guzmán’s case is only a few months old, but it has already been imbued with a circuslike ambience, as teams of armed guards and hordes of reporters have descended on the federal courthouse in Brooklyn for hearings, the next of which is scheduled for Friday.

At the center of the excitement is the diminutive defendant — El Chapo means Shorty in Spanish — who is accused of making billions of dollar and killing thousands of people as the biggest drug dealer in the world.

But the proceedings against Mr. Guzmán have so far consisted largely of a steady stream of incremental litigation, much of it over his confinement in what is called 10 South, the super-secure, 10th-floor wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal jail across the river from the Brooklyn courthouse.

Since arriving at 10 South, Mr. Guzmán has been locked alone in his cell for 23 hours a day, except for trips to court and visits from his lawyers. He has been denied all contact with his family and the media. His lawyers argue that he is the most closely guarded inmate in the country and that the harsh curtailment of his freedoms violates his due process rights and his ability to prepare for trial.


A motorcade carries Mr. Guzmán back to the Manhattan jail after a court appearance in Brooklyn in Februrary. Credit Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

His circumstances there have been so severe that the lawyers asked Judge Cogan to allow a researcher from Amnesty International inside to investigate. But the judge, in his order on Thursday, also rebuffed that request, saying there was “absolutely no reason” for an independent inquiry of 10 South that might, as he put it, “sensationalize an already sensationalized case.”

Michelle Gelernt, one of Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers, said in a statement issued after the judge’s ruling that her client’s imprisonment remained “untenable” and that she and her partner, Michael Schneider, would “continue to fight for his right to fair and humane treatment.”

Ten South is one of the most austere portions of the federal penal system, known for housing dangerous inmates like terrorism suspects and purported arms dealers. Its half-dozen cells are generally 17 by 8 feet and are monitored continuously by cameras. The prisoners in them never go outdoors.

In addition to lodging grievances about these conditions, Mr. Guzmán has also made what Judge Cogan described in his order as “routine and rather petty complaints.” Those complaints have included one about the television in a recreation room not being visible from the exercise bike, forcing Mr. Guzmán to choose between watching TV and working out. He has also said in court papers that prison officials have not allowed him to choose his own program on TV and have instead repeatedly played a documentary about a rhinoceros.

“None of these issues present constitutional concerns,” Judge Cogan wrote, “and the court is not going to micromanage.”

The judge did make one concession to Mr. Guzmán, ruling that he would now be allowed to send messages to his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, a former beauty queen whose father, the authorities say, once cultivated poppies and marijuana for one of her husband’s top lieutenants. But even those messages, Judge Cogan said, would be subject to government review and screening.

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