Inmates Free 1,550 Hostages Held in Venezuela Prison

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Inmates at a Venezuelan prison released some 1,550 people who had been held hostage for more than a week by gang bosses demanding concessions from the authorities.

The standoff began on September 25, when Uribana’s “pranes,” or prison gang bosses, refused to allow inmates’ relatives to leave after visiting time.

The civilians, including 1,300 women, were freed Tuesday after prison authorities negotiated a truce with the pranes. The authorities promised to improve prison conditions, as well as better treatment of prison visitors in the future.

Although some of the inmate’s relatives may have voluntarily joined the protest, the majority were reportedly taken hostage on orders from prison gang leaders, who planned to use them as leverage in negotiations with prison officials. Prior to freeing all hostages, some elderly and ailing victims were released. A young woman was reportedly raped in the prison on Saturday night by one or more inmates, and has been hospitalized.

Venezuelan prisons are notoriously overcrowded and violent. More than 44,000 inmates are housed in a system designed to handle fewer than 15,000, and the institutions are often run by powerful gang bosses.

The country’s prison system has been rocked by a string of crises in recent months. In April inmates took prison officials hostage at the Rodeo II prison outside of Caracas, while in June, riots resulted in the deaths of at least 23 inmates in the country.

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