Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico dismantles 'luxury cells' in Topo Chico riot jail

A handout picture provided by the Government of Monterrey shows police officers conducting a search in the Topo Chico Prison in Monterrey, Mexico on 14 February 2016 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Police said they are abolishing privileges enjoyed by some inmates

Police have retaken control of the Topo Chico jail following last week's riot in which 49 inmates were killed, Mexican officials say.

Officials said officers had "put an end to the self-government imposed by criminal leaders in collusion with some prison authorities".

They also dismantled "luxury cells" containing mini-bars, aquariums and saunas in the prison in Monterrey.

The prison warden and superintendent have been arrested.

Deadly stand-off

The riot broke out on Thursday at around midnight and lasted for under an hour.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Prisoners set fire to a storeroom during the outbreak of violence on Thursday

Officials said it was triggered by a fight over control of the prison between two rival factions of the Zetas drug cartel.

Most of the 49 victims were stabbed to death with home-made weapons or beaten to death with sticks.

One inmate was shot dead by a guard, who has been charged with homicide.

Prison director Gregoria Salazar Robles has been charged with abusing her authority along with her deputy Jesus Fernando Dominguez Jaramillo.

'Luxury cells'

Topo Chico prison in the northern state of Nuevo Leon was 35% over capacity at the time of the riot, with more than 3,800 inmates.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Topo Chico holds both convicted criminals and people awaiting trial

While the majority of prisoners are held in cells without water, ventilation or light, a police sweep of the prison on the weekend revealed that gang leaders enjoyed special privileges.

A statement by the Nuevo Leon state prosecutor's office said Zetas leader Ivan Hernandez Cantu had his cell equipped with a king-size bed, a luxury bath and a huge television.

Other inmates had air conditioners, mini-fridges, aquariums and even portable saunas.

Police also dismantled 280 inmate-run food stalls, a bar and hundreds of altars to Santa Muerte, a death-like figure revered by many members of Mexico's drug cartels.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Santa Muerte is typically represented by a skeletal figure of a woman carrying a scythe

Prison inspectors had in the past denounced the fact that ordinary prisoners had to "rent" space in cells and buy their food at inflated prices from other inmates.

Those who could not afford to pay for space within the cells had to take turns sleeping, or bed down in the prison corridors.

The Nuevo Leon government said that following Thursday's riot it had transferred 233 inmates to other jails, including the two Zetas leaders it blames for the outbreak of violence.

Officials said they would also send legal advisers to the prison on Monday to "review each and every one of the inmates' cases".

Topo Chico holds hardened criminals as well as people awaiting trial on relatively minor charges.

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