Inmates at Brazilian prison hold hundreds hostage
December 29, 1997
Web posted at: 9:48 p.m. EST (0248 GMT)
SAO PAULO, Brazil (CNN) -- In the eighth prison riot to take place in Brazil since Christmas Day, at least 450 people were being held hostage by a group of heavily armed inmates Monday.
The uprising was taking place at a prison in Sorocaba, 50 miles from Sao Paulo.
Television news said that up to 20 hostages were released, but those reports could not be confirmed. About 15 inmates who seized the prison on Sunday did release two women, wives of the inmates, who complained of feeling ill, officials said.
The hostages include women and children -- visiting relatives of the inmates -- and prison staff. Prisoners were demanding more weapons and an armored car to make their getaway. So far, prison officials have refused to accept those demands.
There were no talks to secure the release of child hostages because negotiations in general had reached a stalemate, prison officials said. They did not indicate what their next step would be.
Prison rioting and escapes are common in Brazil, where most penitentiaries are overcrowded. The Sorocaba prison, for example, holds 850 but was built for at least 200 fewer inmates.
Also, tensions traditionally mount during the holiday season, when inmates want to be with their relatives.
Sunday's riot began when a group of inmates, using wigs and women's clothing to disguise their appearance, tried to sneak out of the prison during family visiting hours.
The plan failed, ending in a shootout that left one prisoner and a visiting relative dead. News reports said the relative who died was a 22-year-old wife of one inmate who was trying to help the prisoners flee.
The atmosphere at Sorocaba did not appear particularly tense. Television showed adults and children playing soccer inside the prison walls.
Officials, however, worried the food supply may run out.
"There is no food," said a spokeswoman at the Sao Paulo Penitentiary Center. Television news said a single delivery of bread and milk was reported Monday morning.
Such riots will continue, human rights groups say, if problems such as violence and poor sanitary conditions are not addressed by authorities. The Brazilian government has promised to build more prisons to alleviate overcrowding.
Rio de Janeiro Bureau Chief Marina Mirabella and Reuters contributed to this report.