Colombia declares prison emergency after riots kill 23

Fire and gunshot videos were posted on social media by prisoners themselves who have access to illegal cell phones

Laura Gamba   | 24.03.2020
Colombia declares prison emergency after riots kill 23

BOGOTA, Colombia

Colombia's Justice Minister Margarita Cabello declared a state of emergency in the country's prison system on Monday after riots that left 23 inmates dead and 83 injured in at least 13 prisons took place on Saturday night.  

The protests were apparently prompted by fears of a coronavirus outbreak inside overcrowded prisons. 

As if it were a planned riot, fires, confrontations and shootings unleashed in different prisons of the prison system in the country where there are 123,000 inmates and 14,000 prison guards.

Cabello confirmed Monday that there are still no cases of the virus in the Colombian prison system, saying no sanitary issues could have caused the revolts.

“No inmates or prison personnel have tested positive for coronavirus nor has anyone been isolated because of it,” Cabello said, denying claims of unsanitary conditions. "This was a massive and criminal escape attempt" in some of the country's largest and most overpopulated prisons.

The state of emergency seeks to protect both prisoners and guards by moving non-violent prisoners and inmates older than 60 to house arrest, among other actions the government can take in an effort to prevent a large outbreak of COVID-19 in prisons throughout the country.

Videos of inmates setting fire to mattresses and destroying doors were posted on social media by the very prisoners on Saturday, demonstrating that beyond prison overcrowding that reaches 50 percent, prisoners have access to illegal cell phones, which shows rampant corruption in the system.  

Cabello has said the violence was a coordinated plan that took place across the country's prisons at the same time.

After the virus was detected in Colombia, prison authorities were among the first to adopt quarantine measures including a visitors’ ban.

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