HomeNewsBriefFire in Overcrowded Honduran Prison Kills Over 300
BRIEF

Fire in Overcrowded Honduran Prison Kills Over 300

HONDURAS / 15 FEB 2012 BY HANNAH STONE EN

More than 300 inmates are feared to have died when a fire broke out in a prison in Honduras, which was operating at well over capacity.

Authorities said that 356 prisoners were unaccounted for out of the total 852, but that some of these might have escaped. One of the dead is a female visitor who was staying overnight.

The fire began Tuesday night in the prison in Comayagua, but it is not yet known whether it was caused by an electrical fault or by an inmate setting fire to a mattress. Local firefighters described hellish scenes, reporting that "some 100 prisoners were burned to death or suffocated in their cells ... We couldn't get them out because we didn't have the keys and couldn't find the guards who had them."

One prisoner told local media that their calls for help were at first ignored. "For a while, nobody listened. But after a few minutes, which seemed like an eternity, a guard appeared with keys and let us out," he said.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The tragedy highlights the deep problems of the Honduran prison system -- the Comayagua facility was well over capacity in terms of number of inmates it was designed to hold, reports Reuters.

In 2010, the country's 24 prisons held more than 11,700 prisoners, though there was only capacity for 8,280, according to El Heraldo.

One reason for the overcrowding is the “mano dura” or iron fist approach to crime, which concentrates on locking up members of youth gangs, sometimes just for being associated with the gangs rather than for a specific offense. Overcrowding and a lack of resources means that discipline is poor. Prisons are dominated by powerful gangs of inmates, and criminals often carry on their activities from inside. Some half of all extortions in Tegucigalpa are carried out from within the city’s prison, according to Honduran authorities.

The shortcomings of the penal system have been exposed again and again by incidents in which prisoners lose their lives. In 2004, more than 100 inmates died in a fire in a prison in the city of San Pedro Sula. In 2006, 13 inmates died in a riot in a prison north of Tegucigalpa. Nine died in riots in San Pedro Sula prison as recently as October.

In 2010 President Porfirio Lobo declared an emergency in nine of the country’s 24 prisons. This latest disaster, and the massive loss of life, could force the government to finally carry out real reforms.

A version of this article appeared on the Pan-American Post.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

PRISONS / 7 JUL 2017

A recent report by El Salvador's ombudsman credits the government's new security measures with reducing crime, but condemns their adverse…

EL SALVADOR / 19 MAY 2016

El Salvador has extended a state of emergency in seven prisons for one year, subjecting inmates to heightened security restrictions…

EXTORTION / 30 APR 2019

Honduras’ private sector, under the banner of regional chambers of commerce, joined forces with the country’s elite anti-extortion unit in…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…

THE ORGANIZATION

Backing Investigative Journalism Around the Globe

5 NOV 2021

InSight Crime was a proud supporter of this year's Global Investigative Journalism Conference, which took place November 1 through November 5 and convened nearly 2,000 journalists…

THE ORGANIZATION

Tracking Dirty Money and Tren de Aragua

29 OCT 2021

InSight Crime was delighted to support investigative reporting in the Americas through a workshop with our friends at Connectas, a non-profit journalism initiative that facilitates collaboration…