Guatemalan Inmates Riot, Take Guards Hostage

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Inmates at a maximum security prison in Guatemala rioted for over 24 hours and took guards hostage, yet more evidence of how lax government control and poor conditions fuel violence and chaos in Latin America’s penticiary systems.

On the morning of November 19, the inmates of Fraijanes II prison, located on the outskirts of Guatemala City, began rioting over the maximum security facility’s poor living conditions. The prisoners took eight employees hostage and shouted to journalists gathered outside  that if they were not granted better food and more visitation rights, they would kill the prison workers, reported La Prensa

By the morning of November 20, following negotiations with authorities, the prisoners had released all of their hostages. The interior minister told journalists that the government will conduct an investigation into conditions at the jail and into how the prisoners managed to obtain weapons.

According to Siglo 21, due to the extensive damage caused to cells during the rioting, the government has begun transferring prisoners to other facilities, including several Barrio-18 leaders and drug kingpin Horst Walther Overdick, alias “El Tigre,” who is awaiting extradition to the US.

InSight Crime Analysis

The riot at Fraijanes II follows a string of similar incidents both in Guatemala and throughout the region. On October 18, prisoners at a facility known as “El Infiernito,” or “Little Hell,” in southern Guatemala took nine employees hostage in order to negotiate for better conditions. Last week, inmates at Challapalca, a maximum security prison in southeastern Peru, took 14 employees hostage, also demanding improved living conditions.

While these three incidents were resolved without violence, they are indicative of how the overcrowded, highly corrupt penitentiary systems of many Latin American countries can turn prisons into time bombs, as well as criminal finishing schools. According to figures from the International Center for Prison Studies, Guatemala’s jails were running at 160 percent over capacity last year.

One of the major problems with this overcrowding is that it has created a fertile environment for gangs to recruit new members and continue running their criminal networks from inside. Earlier this year, the prison director of El Infiernito was gunned down in Escuintla, apparently on the orders of imprisoned criminals, while gangs have also been found to run extortion networks from behind bars, some of which target large businesses in neighboring El Salvador.

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