The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) laments last night’s tragic fire in Comayagua, Honduras that claimed the lives of more than 350 prisoners. Initial reports indicate that the prisoners’ cries for help went unheeded, and emergency responders could not locate any guards with keys to release them (compounding the tragedy, news reports on February 16 revealed that as many as half of the prisoners who died had not even been charged). The U.S. State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report strongly criticized the Honduran government for its harsh prison conditions, including overcrowding, outdated structures, and unsanitary conditions. The 24 prison facilities in Honduras can hold up to 8,000 people, but the estimates of overcrowding range from an astounding 11,000 to 13,000 due to a 2003 anti-gang law passed in Honduras. The law swelled the prison population and continued a primarily repressive approach to the security situation.
“This is a tragedy that could have been avoided,” stated Vicki Gass, WOLA’s senior associate for Rights and Development. “The Honduran government has long been on notice for the need for prison reforms and has promised to do so, but like so many promises made by the current and past administrations, these promises have not been fulfilled.”
“It is also a clear indication that favoring incarceration over prevention and rehabilitation does not resolve the problems of gangs and violence. Instead, it only contributes to unsustainable, inhuman prison conditions,” added Gass.
*Updated February 16 to reflect the most recent reports.