Deaths feared in fiery Venezuela jailbreak attempt
Dozens of prisoners were feared killed in an attempted jailbreak from police holding cells in a Venezuelan city on Wednesday, an association for inmates rights said.
There was no official confirmation of the incident from the country’s penitentiary service, but a source told AFP the state-run detention center in the northern city of Valencia did not fall under its responsibility.
According to Carlos Nieto, head of the association Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window on Freedom), dozens of detainees died, “some burned to death and others asphyxiated,” after setting fire to mattresses and stealing a guard’s gun in an attempt to break out.
Relatives of those being kept in the detention center tried to force their way into Carabobo state police headquarters in Valencia. After an officer was hit and injured by a stone, police dispersed the crowd by firing tear gas.
Venezuela’s prisons suffer dire overcrowding and a shortage of basic supplies, struggling under the deepening economic crisis that is gripping the once wealthy oil-producing country.
Because of the lack of space in penitentiaries, convicts are often sent to police holding cells like the ones in Valencia, as temporary jails for suspects facing charges or court, where detainees are supposed to spend only a maximum of 48 hours.
Nieto’s association estimated that the temporary detention centers were overfilled by five times their capacity.
“All the police stations in Venezuela are facing similar or worse conditions of overcrowding, lack of food and disease,” he said.
The association said 65 people died last year in the holding cells, through violence, malnutrition or tuberculosis.
Two weeks ago, 58 detainees escaped holding cells on Margarita Island, a favored tourist spot, when a hole opened up in their facility’s wall. The fugitives were all soon recaptured. /kga
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