Colombian prison riot sparks fire that kills 51

The fire broke out amid chaos at a penitentiary in the western Colombian city of Tolua.

According to Colombian Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz, a fight broke out between the prisoners at around 2 a.m. local time. One inmate set fire to a mattress during a fight and the flames spread across the prison wing, Ruiz said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“The staff of the penitentiary system tried to take care of it on their own, but the flames were too strong and we had to wait for the arrival of firefighters to control the situation,” Ruiz said.

24 people were injured, including an unspecified number of guards.

According to Ruiz, the prison is a medium-security penitentiary where inmates serve either minor sentences or the last few months of their sentence.

Colombian prisons are notorious for being overcrowded. On average, most are 20% over capacity, Ruiz said. However, the penitentiary where the Tolua fire broke out had 17% more capacity, making it one of the country’s least overcrowded prisons, he added.

Deathmatches and prison riots are not uncommon in Colombia and neighboring countries. In March 2020, 24 inmates died in a riot at the Picota prison in Bogotá, protesting against coronavirus measures in the penitentiary system.
Last year, more than 50 people were killed, including 16 beheaded in a Brazilian prison. Dozens of people died in a prison fire in Venezuela in 2018.

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