Fifty-five inmates escaped from an Ecuador prison by rushing the guards at an undermanned gate, evidence of the rapid overcrowding of Ecuador’s under-resourced prison system, as well as alleged official corruption.
The inmates escaped as they were being moved through Quito’s Provisional Detention Center (CDP) to receive visitors on December 15, reported El Comercio. The prison is located in a built up area and the fugitives were able to disappear into the crowds.
The guard manning the door inmates escaped through reported she had been forced to open it as she was threatened by a prisoner with a shank. With just 24 guards — five of which were off sick, while another four had been temporarily reassigned that day — for over 1,400 inmates, the other guards were unable to regain control in time.
However, government officials have indicated they believe the breakout was facilitated by corrupt guards and possibly even prison directors, highlighting the suspicious absence of the nine guards on the same day, reported La Hora.
The mass breakout led to a manhunt led by close to a 1,000 police, and according to the most recent reports 20 inmates have so far been recaptured.
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The breakout illustrates a worrying trend in Ecuador’s prisons — overcrowding. In 2007, Ecuador’s prison population was approximately 19,500 inmates. By October 2013, this had risen to 24,203 prisoners, who are housed in prisons built for 12,338 people, according to El Comercio.
This makes conditions seen in Quito’s CDP, which holds over three times as many prisoners as it was built for, but still retains just a handful of low paid guards, increasingly common. Not only does this make controlling the prison population more difficult, it also makes corruption among the guards, who earn just $622 a month and often work in poor conditions with 24-hour shifts, much more likely.
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According to experts consulted by El Comercio, one of the main reasons for this has been the exponential growth in the use of preventative detention — incarcerating those awaiting trial.
There are few signs that these conditions have yet to create the sort of ultra-violent, inmate-run criminal finishing schools seen in countries like Venezuela and El Salvador, but these countries should act as a warning as to where Ecuador could be heading if it doesn’t take action.