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Mexican prison melee leaves 11 dead, dozens injured

April 27, 2013|By Richard Fausset
  • A photo provided by the Pulso Diario de San Luis newspaper shows ambulances evacuating wounded people from La Pila prison in Mexico's San Luis Potosi state
A photo provided by the Pulso Diario de San Luis newspaper shows ambulances… (Pulso Diario de San Luis )

MEXICO CITY — A massive early-morning prison brawl Saturday in the central Mexican state of San Luis Potosi left 11 inmates dead and more than 65 wounded, officials said, the latest in a string of violent episodes that have plagued this country’s corrupt, porous and unsafe penal institutions.

The melee began at 4:15 a.m. in a penitentiary called La Pila, according to a state attorney general’s office statement, with inmates wielding homemade knives. State and federal police officers and some military personnel had the prison under control as of late Saturday morning, the statement said.

The prison director, Concepcion Tovar, said the brawl was sparked by a group of convicts who were stealing money from others, according to the website of  TV network Televisa. San Luis Potosi Gov. Fernando Toranzo ordered an investigation to identify those who took part in the fight.

Mexico’s prisons are one of numerous weak links in the country’s criminal justice system. Breakouts are common, guards often collude with prisoners and some institutions are essentially under the control of organized crime groups.

Under former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who left office in December, the federal government launched an ambitious prison reform program, building new institutions and training guards with significant support from the United States.

In  April 2012, local news website Vallestar reported [link in Spanish] that La Pila prison had 1,737 inmates,  with the capacity for 1,800. Government officials at the time said that budget constraints prevented them from buidling new facilities to relieve crowding.

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