Honduras Prison Shootout Prompts Military Takeover

The Honduran government deployed military forces to the National Penitentiary over the weekend after a riot between armed inmates in the Central American country killed three people and left at least 10 injured.

President Porfirio Lobo sent reinforcements to the prison in an attempt to end the “reign of delinquency” and disarm inmates within the penitentiary following an Aug. 2 riot. Security in the prison, located west of the capital, Tegucigalpa, is “unacceptable” and military assistance will be provided until a solution to the country’s failing penitentiary system is found, according to a statement from the presidential palace.

The riot began when inmates of rival gangs began shooting at one another within their cells, Jose Augusto Avila, president of the Honduran Prison Inspection Committee, told newspaper La Prensa. Prisoners were found in possession of AK-47 assault rifles and grenades, La Prensa said.

The fighting occurred hours after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report that said Honduran prisons were overcrowded and detailed how prisoners often act as administrators in national penitentiaries. A Feb. 14, 2012, prison fire in Honduras, which was ruled to be accidental, killed 362 inmates.

Government Response

“The state has de facto ceded basic aspects of prison administration to the prisoners themselves,” the report said. “Most of the penal centers and national penitentiaries in the country are run under systems of ‘self-government’ or ‘shared government’ where certain inmates called ‘coordinators’ are those who exercise internal control.”

As a result, inmates are often responsible for applying discipline, setting prices and collecting illegal payments for living space in cells and distributing and setting the prices of food, the report said.

The government will install a layered, maximum security system at the prison to improve the control of goods that enter or leave the facility, according to a statement today from the Honduran presidential offices.

Members of the military will continue to monitor inmate and visitor activities at state prisons in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula for at least the next 90 days, the statement said.

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