Authorities in Bolivia seized large quantities of drugs and weapons and several inmates were killed during a raid at the country’s largest prison, underscoring how inmates continue to wield near total control over the country's penitentiaries.
Seven inmates died and 26 other individuals were injured after Bolivian authorities raided the Palmasola prison in eastern Santa Cruz department just before dawn on March 13, according to a Interior Ministry press release.
During the raid authorities seized a massive eight tons of marijuana and cocaine, 85 knives and machetes, eight firearms, several grenades, 188 mobile phones, nearly $9,000 in cash and various equipment used to distill alcoholic beverages, according to the press release.
According to local media reports, around 6,000 inmates are incarcerated at the Palmasola prison and some 2,300 police officers conducted the raid in an attempt to regain control from criminal groups. Authorities also transferred 20 prisoners out of Palmasola to other prisons in different departments throughout the country.
The police raid came in response to rioting at the prison as inmates protested new restrictions against children entering the facility after reports surfaced that a young girl was repeatedly raped by an inmate, EFE reported. Previous legislation allowed children under six years old to stay with their incarcerated parents.
Bolivia’s Palmasola prison is known as the country’s most corrupt and dangerous. In August 2013, 36 people were killed, including a one-year-old, during a prison riot at the facility over a power struggle.
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The recent raid at this prison is a stark example of the near complete control inmates have and the continued problems that authorities in the country confront in trying to maintain order.
Bolivia’s prisons have long been plagued by overcrowding and the use of pre-trial detention. A recent report identified overcrowding to be at “critical levels” in the country’s penitentiaries, with the occupancy rate well over 250 percent. The fact that almost 70 percent of prisoners in Bolivia are being held in pre-trial detention compounds the problem.
SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Prisons
This severe overcrowding has helped prison inmates take control. In Palmasola, the fact that inmates were able to get nearly eight tons of drugs into the prison, in addition to equipment needed to distill alcohol, shows the lack of control authorities have. Inmates throughout the region often engage in small-scale petty drug dealing, but instances where inmates are able to acquire tons of drugs are rare.
As one inmate at the Palmasola prison put it to InSight Crime investigators during a 2014 investigation, “Rehabilitation centre? This is where you come if you want to find out what makes crime truly organized.”