Four killed, 24 wounded in shootout at maximum-security prison
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A riot and subsequent shootout Thursday between guards and prisoners at a maximum-security prison left at least four inmates dead and 24 wounded, authorities said.
The violence at La Modelo prison occurred after inmates stormed the guard’s command center and stole a gun, ammunition and knives, the national prisons institute said in a statement.
They took two guards hostage, then freed them and tried to gain access to a cellblock roof, said Miller Rubio, the national prisons spokesman. The shootout with guards lasted for three hours.
Another inmate was killed and five others injured when a riot broke out Thursday in the Picalena prison in Ibague, 95 miles southwest of Bogota, said Javier Suarez, another national prisons spokesman. He said authorities had no further details.
There have been more than 30 riots so far this year in the country’s badly overcrowded prisons.
Justice Minister Anabeatriz Rengifo said the government will announce measures to try to ease overcrowding soon, but gave no details at a news conference after a hastily called security meeting at the presidential palace.
She said transferring prisoners is also under consideration, but very few of Colombia’s 168 prisons have free cells. The prison system, designed to house 28,000 inmates currently holds more than 40,000, according to a study released Wednesday by the Foundation of Higher Education and Development, an independent think tank.
After the La Modelo riot, eight wounded inmates were evacuated to the San Juan de Dios hospital. Dr. Alvaro Casana, the hospital director, told Radionet network that all eight had been shot and two were in serious condition.
Hours after the shootout, police and soldiers ringed the prison. Inmates had returned to their cells by midday. A team of prosecutors and ombudsmen entered to prison to talk with the inmates.
``There is weakness in the jail system ... but we are working on it,″ national prisons director Rafael Lamo told Caracol radio.
La Modelo, built to house 1,500 inmates, is crammed with nearly triple that number, and many live in appalling conditions. More than 85 percent are still awaiting sentence.
Inmates there include Cali drug cartel kingpin Victor Patino and rebel leader Francisco Galan, as well as a younger brother of Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, other top Cali leaders.
The three men are held in a separate, top-security building and were not involved in the uprising, said Javier Suarez, another prisons spokesman.
Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela are held along with other Cali bosses at Bogota’s other maximum-security prison, La Picota.