Peruvian authorities said they recaptured the last two of 17 fugitives who escaped from prison this week after allegedly paying large bribes to prison officials, in the latest illustration of the crisis in the region’s prisons.
Seventeen inmates broke out of Challapalca prison in the Puno region of southeast Peru on Sunday. All have now been recaptured, while one is dead — officials said he died of hypothermia after being captured, but other reports said he had suffered bullet wounds to the chest.
The inmates claim to have paid bribes to prison staff to help them escape, with one of the recaptured men saying he handed over $15,000, reports La Republica. Investigators found deposits in the bank accounts of guards at the prison which they say corroborate the fugitives’ story.
The escapees, who were armed with guns, ammunition, and grenades taken from prison staff, allegedly planned to procure false identification in Bolivia before returning to Peru.
The entire staff of the Challapalca facility, (pictured) has been replaced following the allegations, according to prison authority INPE. The head of INPE said that it was clear that there were corrupt elements within the organization.
InSight Crime Analysis
The escape took place within days after two other high-profile disasters in Latin America’s prisons; a fire which killed more than 350 inmates in Honduras on February 14, and the massacre of 44 inmates by imprisoned members of the Zetas in Mexico on February 19, followed by a mass break out. Prison authorities have faced blame for both these incidents, with Honduran guards failing to remove prisoners from their cells in time to save them from the fire, while in Mexico guards were apparently in the pay of the Zetas, and allowed the murders and escape to take place.
Two inmates died in a fire in a prison in Colombia this week, adding to a sense of crisis across the region’s penal systems.
Edgard Altamirano Marquez, a former member of Peru’s National Prison Council (CNP), told RPP Noticias that Peru’s penitentiary system had “collapsed,” with prison workers vastly outnumbered by prisoners, at 6,225 to 54,600. He said that in Challapalca prison there were only 12 guards to police 140 inmates.
As InSight Crime has argued, overcrowding and under-staffing exacerbated by the overuse of pre-trial detention are at the heart of prison problems in both Mexico and Honduras.