Ecuador has deadliest prison riots ever

AAP
Ecuador will ask other South American countries for help to tackle the crisis in its prisons.
Camera IconEcuador will ask other South American countries for help to tackle the crisis in its prisons.

Ecuador has experienced its deadliest prison riots ever this week when seemingly co-ordinated fights broke out in facilities in three different cities, leaving 79 inmates dead and exposing the limited control that authorities have over people behind bars.

Hundreds of police officers and military personnel converged on the prisons after the unrest began on Monday night in the maximum-security wings as rival gangs fought for leadership.

President Lenin Moreno, whose term ends in May, on Wednesday said he would ask other South American countries for help to tackle the crisis in Ecuador's prisons and acknowledged the system was deficient and lacked financial resources.

Inmates in two prisons attempted to keep fighting on Wednesday despite the heavy police response. Television footage showed smoke billowing from one of the facilities.

About 70 per cent of the country's prison population lives in the centres where the unrest occurred. The national agency responsible for the prisons said 37 inmates died in the Pacific coast city of Guayaquil, 34 in the southern city of Cuenca and eight in the central city of Latacunga.

"Ecuadorian prisons are overpopulated, as they always have been, as are prisons in nearly every country," said Mark Ungar, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College in the US, who has researched prisons in Latin America.

Also, there was "this amazingly repetitive practice of putting members of different gangs within the same facility".

"So, the very fact of putting them together is a recipe for violence," he said.

Ungar said inadequate staffing in Latin American prisons limited the ability of authorities to patrol inmate interactions and made it practically impossible to separate prisoners sufficiently to prevent violence.

Ecuador's prisons were designed for some 27,000 inmates but house about 38,000. Their maximum-security areas tend to house inmates linked to killings, drug trafficking, extortion and other major crimes.

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