Hundreds held hostage in Colombia prison
Most hostages are relatives of inmates
January 12, 1998
Web posted at: 11:21 a.m. EST (1621 GMT)
POPAYAN, Colombia (CNN) -- Several hundred hostages, mostly women, were being held on Monday by rioting inmates who took control of San Isidro prison one day earlier in a protest over living conditions.
Most of the hostages were visiting inmates at the prison in Popayan, 230 miles (370 km) southwest of the capital, Bogota, when the uprising began, according to Warden Sandra Vasquez.
Police said they did not believe any of the hostages were at risk since most were wives and relatives of inmates and many had volunteered to stay in support of their husbands' protest.
The prisoners, who are calling for improvements in squalid jail conditions, freed at least 18 people on Sunday but were demanding talks with a human rights ombudsman and Red Cross officials before they freed the rest.
The duty guard at the prison, who did not wish to be named, said the riot broke out at about 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) Sunday and that the inmates, who were not reported to be armed, quickly succeeded in taking "full control" of the prison compound.
Late Sunday one inmate was hospitalized for a bullet wound as army and police surrounded the prison. But Vasquez said no sharpshooter or police officer had fired. She promised an investigation once authorities regained control of the prison in the capital of Cauca province,
Overcrowding is a major problem at San Isidro, a prison built to accommodate 900 inmates but currently housing about 1,100.
Among the inmates' demands are better health care, a mattress for each inmate, proper drinking water and education facilities.
Colombia's prison system is chronically overcrowded, and the
grim conditions sparked a wave of riots across the country last year.
Congress, however, recently approved a law that seeks to cut
overcrowding by reducing sentences for some prisoners and
granting home leave for others, including drug traffickers.
Reuters contributed to this report.