El Chapo: Does His Mental Health Matter?

Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, is worth almost a billion dollars for every foot he is tall. Standing at 5’5”, his net worth is $4 billion. And while he does not look very menacing, this Mexican drug lord, head of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, once proclaimed that he has killed 2,000 - 3,000 people. This does not include the thousands of people his henchman have killed, nor the amount of people who have died from using the meth, heroin, or cocaine that he traffics.

“I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world," claimed El Chapo in an interview. "I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats." This brag may very well be true. By one estimate, the Sinaloa Cartel trafficked nearly 264,000 pounds of cocaine into the United States between 1990 and 2005, and controls 40- 60% of Mexico’s drug trade, with earnings of about $3 billion annually.

El Chapo’s prison history is comparable in length to his drug reputation. El Chapo faces charges in 10 legal cases in Mexico, as well as federal charges in Arizona, California, Texas, Illinois, New York, Florida and New Hampshire. He was first arrested in Guatemala in 1993 on charges of drug trafficking, murder, and kidnapping, and was extradited to Mexico. However, El Chapo was able to continue running the Cartel while in prison until his escape from a maximum-security prison in a laundry cart, costing him $2.5 million in bribes. El Chapo was arrested again in 2014, but escaped 16 months later through a mile long tunnel beneath the prison.

El Chapo was recaptured in Mexico in 2016 and extradited to the United States. Now, his lawyer and wife are petitioning to move him to another prison. "We have noticed that his mental state has deteriorated, not just his memory but ... the way he understands things. He's not the man he was when I first met him," his lawyer reports. El Chapo’s wife reports the same, although she has not been able to see or speak to her husband since he was transferred to the U.S.

Psychological effects are common in prisoners, and even more so in persons in solitary confinement, such as El Chapo. Prosecutors argue that the harsh conditions are necessary because of El Chapo’s history of running his drug empire from behind bars, as well as his previous escape from two maximum-security prisons. Yet El Chapo reports an inability to focus on the conditions of his case, trouble sleeping, constant headaches, and daily vomiting. It is also alleged that El Chapo’s lawyer helped the drug lord to have cell phone contact with his wife. This therefore begs the question: does El Chapo’s mental health matter?

When you’re in prison, certain rights are stripped away from you. But should this vary based on the degree of the crime? Does El Chapo deserve mental health treatment, or should he deteriorate in solitude? He is known to have tortured and killed thousands of people, but under the law, his rights are no different than any other prisoner in any other jail cell in the United States. It is not only his past risk that poses a problem — it is the potential current risk he poses as well. As the record shows, El Chapo is well-financed and well-equipped to escape prison. Should the government risk his transfer for the sake of mental health?

No two perspectives are the same. Think about what you would think if you were a citizen whose life was destroyed by the Sinaloa Cartel. Think about what members of his cartel say, who went from rags to riches under his control. Think about what the President thinks. Think about what equal rights groups think. Think about what the DEA thinks. Think about what you think.