A riot broke out in central Honduras’ only prison for women which left 41 inmates dead, one of the deadliest outbreaks of violence in the country’s long-troubled prison system, The New York Times reported.
According to the spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office, Yuri Mora, most of the victims have been burned, while others had been shot. Mora further added that the death toll was expected to rise as investigators combed through the detention facility in Tamara, near Tegucigalpa, the capital. “We are dismayed by the loss of human lives,” Julissa Villanueva, vice minister of security and head of the Honduran penitentiary system, said in a news conference. The country’s penal system, she said, had been “hijacked” by organized crime.
A similar incident was seen in 2019, where 40 gang members were killed in clashes at two all-male prisons over the same weekend. The death toll on Tuesday makes the episode the deadliest prison riot in the Central American country in years, according to The New York Times.
Killings have surged in recent years in the women’s prison, where several inmates have been strangled or stabbed during confrontations between female gang members of two rival criminal organizations: the 18th Street gang and the MS-13 gang.
The country’s president, Xiomara Castro, said she was “shocked” by the deaths and promised to take “drastic measures” to hold responsible officials accountable.
The riot was “planned by gangs in full view of the law enforcement authorities,” she tweeted, without elaborating.
The MS-13 and 18th Street gangs, longtime rivals that originated in the United States, have fomented violence in Honduras and neighbouring countries for decades.
A 2021 report on Honduras by Human Rights Watch said that “Overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, poor sanitation, beatings, intra-gang violence, and detainee killings are endemic in prisons.”
Honduras’s National Women’s Penitentiary for Social Adaptation housed about 800 inmates, roughly double its capacity, according to a government official, as per The New York Times.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in 2020, recorded “several violent events” across Honduran prisons, including the women’s facility, “where no violent deaths had been reported before.” Some of those incidents “were allegedly perpetrated with firearms and other prohibited objects,” the commission said.