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El Salvador Prison System in Crisis

On August 4, 1994, 300 prisoners at the San Miguel prison in El Salvador took a judge and his secretary hostage to protest prison conditions. The hostages were freed a few hours later after judicial officials signed an agreement to study the prisoners' demands for prison reforms. The demands include an end to prison transfers, permission to set up prisoner groups and government assistance for prisoners after their release. The judge was at the prison to investigate disturbances that on August 2, 1994, left one prisoner dead.

On August 19, 1994, hundreds of armed prisoners clashed with guards during an attempted mass escape from El Salvador's biggest prison "La Esperanza" (The Hope) which holds 2,300 prisoners near the capital of San Salvador. The prisoners were armed with rifles, pistols and grenades. By the next day police and soldiers had retaken most of the prison, leaving one guard dead and two wounded with nine prisoners dead and 15 wounded in the clashes. The escape attempt began when a group of women arrived at the prison for conjugal visits with the prisoners.

The prison at La Esperanza has been the site of numerous escape attempts. Since November, 1993, more than 40 prisoners have been killed in Salvadoran prisons. When social democratic guerrillas surrendered in 1992, ending the country's decade long civil war, thousands of soldiers and guerrillas were demobilized. Unable to find jobs or other employment many of the former combatants have turned to crime, leading to a skyrocketing crime rate. None of the country's economic inequalities which had, in part, caused the civil war were addressed leaving poverty and employment a continuing problem but this time with a well armed population. As a result the Salvadoran prison system is massively overcrowded under harsh conditions of confinement. This has led to continuing rebellion and struggle by the prisoners.

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