Honduran President Porfirio Lobo ordered the militarization of the country’s main prison on Saturday after a gunfight there left at least three gang members dead and 12 people injured, including three guards.
The aim of the measure, which involves putting soldiers in charge of the prison’s security, is to “end the reign of criminals in our prison system, which has done so much damage to our society,” Lobo said in a statement.
Honduran Police spokesman Miguel Martinez said members of the “Barrio 18” gang fought with other inmates in Honduras’ National Penitentiary, which houses 3,351 inmates and is about 15km north of the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa.
Three gang members were killed and nine injured, director of penitentiaries Jose Simeon Flores said in a press conference, adding that three guards were wounded by gunfire.
“The gang members used AK-47s, according to them, to defend themselves from other prisoners. They also exploded a fragmentation grenade,” Flores said.
The Honduran army and police are now in control of the prison, he said, adding that authorities are carrying out a “cell-by-cell review to find out what happened.”
Juan Ayestas, chief of emergency surgery at the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa, said one of the dead inmates had a gunshot wound to the head.
A contingent of 70 soldiers and police was sent to guard the Hospital Escuela, where injured inmates were taken, for fear that their gang would try to free them.
“We have detected cars with armed men inside passing by the hospital and for this reason we are increasing security measures to avoid a tragedy,” Martinez said.
The riot and militarization of the prison comes a day after the release of an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report that said inmates control Honduras’ 24 prisons because the state has abandoned its role in rehabilitating people convicted of crimes.
The commission said that one consequence of the state’s abandonment of the prisons is the rise of so-called systems of “self-governance” that are headed by inmates known as “coordinators.”
The report said that some of the correctional facilities are so poorly guarded that the inmates could escape if they wanted to, but they do not because they do not want to upset the balance.
The commission conducted the report after a fire last year at the Comayagua Prison killed 361 prisoners.
Authorities say they carry out three monthly searches in the country’s state prison and find a large amount of arms, from guns to knives and machetes. Guards are bribed to let inmates bring the arms into the prison.
Tegucigalpa says there are 12,263 people incarcerated in the country, but its prison system can accommodate just 8,120 inmates.