At least 17 prisoners escaped Sunday morning from the Challapalca prison, in Peru’s Puno region, after allegedly taking some of their guards hostage, the head of the National Penitentiary Institute, Jose Perez, said.
“The great majority have been identified by their nicknames. There are 17 prisoners (with a lot of convictions). The people who go to Challapalca are people who have very long ... and stiff sentences,” Perez told Radio Programas del Peru, or RPP.
The Challapalca prison is located about five hours by road from the southern city of Puno and there are no communications systems in the area.
The possible taking of hostages “is ... preliminary. We’re going to investigate until the end,” the Peruvian prison chief said.
According to initial information, the prisoners received the help of accomplices who were waiting for them outside the facility.
“This was coordinated. There were pickup trucks (outside the prison) awaiting the ones who escaped. It’s not something that just happened, but rather (it was) planned,” he said.
Perez said that he was traveling to the area to evaluate the situation, noting that there is a dearth of prison personnel in Peru.
Prison officials from the Puno and Arequipa regions are also traveling to Challapalca, along with police and army personnel.
Meanwhile, the head of the Peruvian police, Gen. Raul Salazar, announced Sunday that the border with Chile had been closed because of its proximity to Challapalca.
“The border is closed. The photographs of the fugitives are going to be disseminated on the national level so that citizens may cooperate with us and feel committed to the security of the country,” Salazar told RPP.
The general also said that about 3,000 police officers were being mobilized throughout the country to capture the prisoners, who were serving sentences of murder, aggravated robbery, extortion and kidnapping, among others.
“We have deployed all the forces we have in (the regions of) Tacna, Puno, Cusco Apurimac, Moquegua, Ica, Arequipa, Cuzco and Ayacucho. All the areas have been reinforced on an ongoing basis,” he said, adding that the apprehension of the escapees was “imminent.”
The state-run Andina news agency reported that security measures had also been reinforced along the border with Bolivia.
The prosecutor in the town of Desaguadero, Oscar Jimenez, confirmed that the fugitives escaped with the weapons and uniforms of their guards.
At the time of the escape, the prison housed 129 inmates, although it has the capacity for 240.
In Peru’s prisons, the majority of inmates live in overcrowded conditions where they are exposed to diseases such as tuberculosis and where there are not enough guards, according to different sources.