54 Injured, Including 3 Guards, in Chile Prison Uprising

SANTIAGO – A total of 51 inmates and three guards were injured in a riot at a prison in Puente Alto, part of the Chilean capital’s metropolitan area, the director of the prison guard service said Saturday.

“Forty-three of (the prisoners) suffered slight injuries and already are back in their cells. Eight suffered more serious injuries and were taken to Sotero del Rio Hospital and Padre Hurtado Hospital. Three guards who were injured received medical treatment,” Luis Masferrer said.

He said the violence broke out Friday afternoon in Tower 2 of the penitentiary, located some 25 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of downtown Santiago, adding that the guards tried to remove the injured after the disturbances erupted but were impeded in their efforts by other inmates.

The violence later spread to Tower 3, where the prisoners holed themselves up and demanded the presence of supervisory Judge Gisela Muñoz, Masferrer said.

The situation was brought under control several hours later and guards subsequently raided inmates’ cells and found some 200 bullfighting swords and 10 gas cylinders fitted to hurl flames and knives.

Prison authorities said they decided to transfer 21 of the inmates described as “highly dangerous” to maximum-security prisons in Santiago.

Masferrer, meanwhile, called attention to overcrowding at Chilean prisons, noting that the penitentiary in Puente Alto houses 1,719 inmates, or almost double its 900-person capacity.

Prison guards told reporters late Friday that the incidents began at around 1:00 p.m. when inmates armed with knives and other sharp objects attacked guards inside one of the towers.

Pedro Hernandez, president of the National Association of Penitentiary Workers, or Anfup, told Chile’s TVN television that the guards had to use buckshot to bring the situation under control.

The inmates – many of whom were under the influence of alcohol – even began setting fire to their own clothing and belongings, Hernandez said, although he added that they did not spark a large blaze inside the prison.

The guards responded to the violence by moving close to 700 inmates to the prison’s gymnasium and courtyard.

Prisoners’ relatives, who arrived at the doors of the Puente Alto penitentiary following the incidents, told reporters that the inmates were angry that several of them had not been granted sentence reductions or parole this year.

Several fire trucks were deployed to the prison, while militarized police also arrived to provide extra security.

After 81 inmates were killed on Dec. 8 in a fire that broke out after a fight at Santiago’s San Miguel penitentiary, prisoners in several other facilities in the Chilean capital and outlying provinces have rioted to protest overcrowding.

In the wake of the tragedy at the San Miguel prison, President Sebastian Piñera – who took office earlier this year – labeled the country’s prison overcrowding problem a “disgrace.”

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