A fire in a Chilean prison has killed more than 80 inmates. The blaze at the San Miguel prison in Santiago is reported to have been started when mattresses were set on fire during a fight between rival gangs.
The blaze is the worst ever in a Chilean prison. More than 5,000 people gathered outside the gaol, and many complained they could get no information about the fate of their loved ones. There were also reports that prison guards at first refused to let in firefighters.
Chile has one of the highest per capita prison populations in Latin America, and the San Miguel gaol was grossly overcrowded. Built for 700, it was holding nearly 2,000. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera described the system as ‘inhumane’ and called for reform.
Overcrowding was also a factor in perhaps the worst ever prison fire, which swept through the Ohio State Penitentiary in the USA on April 21, 1930. The prison should have held 1,500 inmates, but 4,300 were packed inside, and more than 320 died. The following year Ohio set up a parole board that eventually released thousands of prisoners.