An overcrowded prison leads to Comayagua fire

In the evening on February 14th, 355 prisoners burned and suffocated in their prison fire in Comayagua, Honduras. The firemen couldn’t rescue all the convicts because they didn’t get the cells ‘keys from the fled guards.

The number of dead has reached 382 people on February 26th.The investigations showed that it was an inmate who caused the fire by lighting his own mattress.

This tragedy has happened because of several risky elements as bad living conditions of the prisoners, the overcrowding in the prison and no evacuation plan.

For this prison fire and others before, overall Honduran and Latin American jail systems have been questioned. And, it showed that the incident wouldn’t be inevitable for the overcrowding conditions in prison.

The Comayagua Farm prison was built in the 1940s for 250 prisoners but according to the Honduran government it could accommodate 400. Actually, there were 852 prisoners.

The incident of the Comayagua prison isn’t the only one in the past decade. In 2010, prison fires killed 16 inmates in El Salvador and 81 people in Chile.

“These events reflect an alarming pattern of prison violence in the region, which is a direct consequence of, or aggravated by, a range of endemic problems including chronic prison overcrowding, the lack of access to basic services such as adequate floor space, potable water, food, health care, and lack of basic sanitary and hygienic standards,” Rupert Colville, spokesman of U.N High commissioner of Human Rights told to Reuters.

All over Latin America, the overcrowding situation of the prisons is a big problem which is complicated to solve.

In Honduras, the situation is more difficult than in the other countries because of its economic and social situation.

Honduras is one of the poorest and the most violent countries in the world.  Its rate of violence is the highest of the world with 82 murderers per 100 000 inhabitants. This violence is due to the most popular and organized gang of North and Central America: la Mara Salvatrucha which most known as MS 13 or M-18 in Honduras.

The MS gang is the main cause of drug traffic, murders and all the illegal activities in Honduras.

In order to struggle to this structural problem, the government has decided to take drastic measures as the Zero tolerance policy.

This policy consists in arresting any person who wears gang tattoos, uses any gang signals and symbols. It provoked a rapid growth of the prison population in Honduras.

In addition, the Honduran justice system is based on Napoleonic Code depending on which defendants have to prove they aren’t guilty if an investigation goes to their arrest.

The Comayagua tragedy, the Honduran government realized it’s a critical situation that they have to solve with very few means.

“This is a problem that’s existed for a long time, and the solutions haven’t been applied, but now we have to do something even though we don’t have the money,” Honduran Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla said.

Then, we wait for all the process that the Honduran government will position to change its prison system.


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