A riot in a jail in northern Argentina left 32 killed according to official reports, when inmates set mattresses on fire as they tried to escape on Sunday night. The fire broke out late Sunday in one of the cellblock complexes of a maximum security prison for men in the central province of Santiago del Estero, said Ricardo Daives, the province's justice minister.
Most of the inmates died of smoke inhalation, according to reports, while another 10 people were hospitalized for the same reason. Daives said inmates apparently set the fire in a bid to distract guards as part of plan to break out of the prison.
The minister said mattresses and other flammable materials inside one of the seven prison units swiftly caught fire, spewing dense smoke. The entire prison houses more than 400 inmates but Daives said other units were not affected.
Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to restore calm after some 200 relatives tried to break through barricades blocking an entrance to the penitentiary, the government news agency Telam reported. Broadcast television news footage showed relatives hugging each other and then trying to tear down anti-riot barricades manned by police outside the prison.
However, local Human Rights groups believe the deadly outcome of the riot is not only connected with an escape attempt but also is a consequence of poor conditions. The Center for Social and Legal Studies (CELS), said that deads “are responsibility of the government”, as urged for better conditions for the inmates.
According to CELS press release, this prison, located in the province of Santiago del Estero, some 1,000 north of Buenos Aires, is overpopulated in a 122%. The report also reads that 276 persons out of the 444 jailed there have not been yet sentenced.
The last major prison fire in Argentina killed 32 inmates in 2005 at a penitentiary in Magdalena, southeast of the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires. The worst prison tragedy in Argentina's modern history was the Villa Devoto uprising in 1978 in the capital in which 61 people died.