President Guillermo Lasso is considering the release of 5,000 non-violent prisoners to reduce prison overcrowding. The plan follows Wednesday night’s gang violence at the national prisons in Guayaquil and Latacunga that left 22 dead, including a policeman, and 70 injured.
In an interview with CNN, Lasso called the situation in the prisons “deplorable and in need of immediate remedy,” declaring a state of emergency in all prisons to reduce overcrowding and to improve inmate control. He said releasing prisoners not convicted of violent crimes and who have served at least 60 percent of their sentences is an action that could be carried out within a matter of weeks.
Police blame the violence on the Los Choneros and Los Lagartos crime gangs, who took over parts of the two prisons and began attacking rivals. The Litoral penitentiary in Guayaquil saw a 30-minute gunfight between inmates and police that left eight prisoners and the police officer dead. “It is unbelievable that prisoners were able to acquire firearms in these quantities,” Lasso said. “It indicates the lack of control we have of the prisons and this will change.”
Following a brief tour of the Latacunga facility Thursday afternoon, Lasso announced the firing of current national prison chief Edmundo Moncayo and the appointment of Fausto Cobo. “We obviously need a change in direction in the corrections system. We will reduce the conditions of overcrowding and adopt tougher measures to deal with the most violent criminals.” He added that funding for the prison system, which was reduced by 10 percent by the Lenin Moreno government, may need to be increased.
In addition to the killing at Cotopaxi by gunshot, six other police officers were injured during the uprising at both prisons. At Cotopaxi, five officers were taken hostage by prisoners and a female officer was raped.
Police say 78 prisoners at Cotopaxi attempted to escape but were captured on prison grounds.
Unlike the gang warfare that killed 79 at three prisons in February, no disturbances were reported at the Turi prison in Cuenca. Following that violence, which left 34 dead at Turi, dozens of violent convicts were transferred to Guayaquil and Latacunga.