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HONDURAS: Tragedies in overcrowded prisons

May 2012

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Following the accidental blaze that devastated the Comayagua penitentiary on 14 February, Bishop Roberto Camilleri, from that diocese in Honduras, spoke about “the worst tragedy in the history of our country’s prisons” and deplored the “inhuman life and security conditions due to dreadful overcrowding in the prison population”. The Bishop pointed out that the disaster was the third incident of that kind in an Honduran prison over the last years. In 2004 a blaze in San Pedro Sula prison had killed more than 100 people.

In the Comayagua prison centre, some 85 km north of the capital Tegucigalpa, 360 inmates and a woman visitor lost their lifes in horrific circumstances, trapped with absolutely no means of escape. Numerous others suffered critical burns.

The Centre had been designed to house 250 prisoners but at the time of the fire it held 852 inmates. The fact that the Comayagua prison was the highest security jail nationwide was a compounding circumstance which accounts for the particularly high casualty figure.

Six weeks later, on 29 March, 13 inmates were killed at the San Pedro Sula prison after a violent mutiny broke out and a fire started. Honduras Attorney General himself admitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the prison with only 800 beds was housing more than 2 200 inmates. Nationwide, in this country with the highest homicide rate in the world, 12 500 prisoners are held in 24 prisons built for a total capacity of 8 000, in conditions that make the Honduras prison system a real time bomb ready to explode at any moment.

At the time of the deadly blaze in Comayagua, relatives of inmates at the San Pedro Sula prison had warned that it had far worse overcrowding and security conditions. Many of those currently languishing in that jail have been there for years awaiting trial and have not even been convicted of any crime.

Despite the repeated government promises that such incidents would never happen again, it seems that no lessons have been learned from the tragic events at Comayagua.

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