At least 10 inmates died in an armed battle between rival gangs in a Venezuelan prison on Wednesday. The violence, which took place in Tocoron prison in the central state of Aragua (75 miles south of Caracas), was reportedly triggered by the murder of a gang leader in the same prison earlier this week. During the eight-hour battle for control of Tocoron, inmates used automatic weapons, and even hand grenades, against other inmates and prison guards.
Police surrounded the prison during the firefight, but were forced to wait outside until the intensity diminished before restoring control. Among the wounded were four female relatives of inmates housed in Tocoron, who were hit by stray bullets while waiting outside for news of their loved ones.
The gang fight at Tocoron highlights the dire conditions in Venezuela’s prisons. More than 220 Venezuelan inmates died in prison in the first quarter of 2010 alone. The violence is due in part to a rampant gang culture that is linked to the country’s drug trade. Prisons are also overcrowded with 40,000 inmates occupying a correctional system that is only meant to accommodate 15,000.