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23 die in attempted Mexican prison break

December 19, 2012|By Richard Fausset and Cecilia Sanchez
  • A man, said to be a relative of an inmate, waits Tuesday in front of the prison in Gomez Palacio where inmates attempted to escape.
A man, said to be a relative of an inmate, waits Tuesday in front of the prison… (La Vanguardia )

MEXICO CITY — A riot and foiled prison break late Tuesday in the drug gang-infested state of Durango left at least 23 people dead, including 14 inmates and nine guards, after prisoners attacked their captors with rocks and then firearms.

The state-run prison in the central Mexican city of Gomez Palacio made headlines in the summer of 2010 when the warden at the time was jailed after inmates were allowed to borrow guns from guards. Those inmates also were allowed to leave the prison at night and committed killings while they were out, federal authorities alleged at the time.  

On Wednesday, Jesus Rosso, Durango’s public security secretary, said investigators were looking into how the inmates managed to get ahold of the weapons they allegedly used to kill a number of prison guards in Tuesday's incident.

“Of course those arms shouldn’t have existed [in the prison] and, above all, not in the hands of the inmates,” Rosso said.

The riot may have been a response to the transfer Monday of 137 inmates there to other federally run prisons. The newspaper Milenio published a statement from the inmates’ families complaining about the transfer, though Rosso said he saw “no relation” between the two incidents. (Link in Spanish)

Since former President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown on the drug cartels in 2006, state-run prisons have absorbed large numbers of cartel members charged with or convicted of serious federal charges.  

But state prisons have a long history of corruption and poor management, and inmates don’t always stay in for long: In September, Calderon said more than 1,000 state prisoners had escaped in the previous six years.

In an effort to solve the problem, the Calderon administration went on a federal prison-building spree to better house federal inmates. In October, the president said the federal prisons, which had a little more than 3,000 inmates in 2006, would have more than 50,000 inmates by the end of this year.

Calderon’s term ended Dec. 1. His successor, President Enrique Peña Nieto, also has pledged to carry out prison reform.

The trouble in Durango began about 5 p.m. Rosso said the inmates attacked the guards with rocks, after which “various detonations” were heard and two guards fell.

The inmates fired weapons at guards in the prison and in the watchtowers above, according to a statement issued by the state Public Security Ministry.

Amid the shootouts and fighting, some of the prisoners tried to escape through tunnels and a back fence. However, military personnel were able to prevent them from fleeing and took control of the prison more than an hour and a half after the fighting began, according to Rosso and the statement.

The inmates who were allowed nocturnal excursions in 2010 were later accused by federal prosecutors of, among other things, killing 17 people in the city of Torreon. Later, four journalists covering the prison scandal were kidnapped by members of the Sinaloa drug cartel, according to authorities.

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