Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Day 83° Clear
News >  Nation/World

At least 51 inmates die in prison riot and fire in Colombia

June 28, 2022 Updated Tue., June 28, 2022 at 8:32 p.m.

By Emma Bubola and Iñigo Alexander New York Times

At least 51 inmates died and 30 people were injured at a prison in Colombia after a fire broke out during a riot Tuesday, the country’s top prison official said.

Gen. Tito Castellanos, director of the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute, told Radio Nacional de Colombia that inmates in the Tuluá prison, in southwestern Colombia, had set mattresses on fire, producing an uncontrollable blaze in a pavilion that held about 180 prisoners.

“It is a sad and disastrous event,” Castellanos told Caracol, another Colombian broadcaster.

Two guards were among those injured, according to officials, who said the riot was staged as part of an unsuccessful escape attempt.

The local fire brigade received the alarm at about 1:35 a.m., said Azarías Medina Hincapié, commander of the Tuluá Fire Department. He added that 25 people had been taken to nearby hospitals for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation, at least two of whom died.

The prison houses 1,267 inmates and is 17% over capacity, according to the prison agency. Ten of the 11 pavilions that make up the prison were not involved in the fire.

In 2020, more than 20 inmates died at La Modelo prison in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, in clashes with the institution’s authorities over what prisoners said were insufficient coronavirus precautions.

This year, the Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia, which oversees civil and human rights in the country, said the prison system was overcrowded, with about 96,000 inmates – about 20% over capacity.

The ombudsman, Carlos Camargo, proposed an overhaul of the system to allow “the fulfillment of the purposes of custody and protection of human rights.”

“Inadequate spaces, diseases, stress prevail among the inmates,” Camargo said in a statement in March. “This translates into fights and uprising attempts, which is why we urge comprehensive reform of the penitentiary and prison system.”

President Iván Duque wrote on Twitter that “we regret the events that occurred in the prison of Tuluá” and said he was in contact with Castellanos.

“I have given instructions to carry out investigations to clarify this terrible situation,” Duque added. “My solidarity to the families of the victims.”

President-elect Gustavo Petro – who will be the first leftist to lead the country – wrote on Twitter that what had happened in Tuluá, “like the massacre in La Modelo, forces a complete rethinking of prison policy in terms of the humanization of the prison and the dignity of the prisoner.”

“The Colombian state has viewed prison as a space for revenge and not for rehabilitation,” he added.

Many hours after the blaze was put out, the identities of the victims had not been released, and relatives of the prisoners gathered opposite the Tuluá prison in hopes of learning about their family members.

“I don’t know anything. They won’t let us in. We want justice,” Maria Eugenia Rojas – the mother of 23-year-old Luis Miguel Rojas, who was held at the pavilion where the fire broke out – told Noticias Caracol, tears running down her face.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.