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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 00:37 GMT 01:37 UK
Tunnel escape from Brazil jail
Riot at Carandiru Prison, Sao Paulo, in February 2001
Conditions are very poor in Brazilian prisons
More than 80 prisoners have tunnelled their way out of one of Brazil's top security jails, with almost all the escapees still on the run.

The inmates dug a tunnel 50 metres long, under two buildings and beneath the boundary wall at Silvio Porto prison.

Officials at the prison, in the town of Joao Pessoa in Paraiba state, said it was the largest breakout in the state's history.

Only three of the 84 who absconded have so far been recaptured.

One man was returned to detention after he was caught mugging a woman on a beach near the prison.

Brazil's jails are notorious for overcrowding, with poor conditions leading to regular escape attempts.

Silvio Porto houses about 700 inmates.

Staying put

The tunnel was one metre wide and the prisoners even equipped it with lighting.

But although the escapees set a new record, there were another 41 who turned down the chance and stayed behind in their cells.

A local prison official admitted that although signs of restlessness had been detected among the inmates recently, their cells had not been searched.

In Rio and Sao Paulo where there are now many members of organised crime gangs in the prisons, escape attempts have also become more sophisticated than the traditional tunnel or shoot-out methods, says the BBC's Jan Rocha.

A few weeks ago a helicopter was hijacked and made to land on the roof of the Sao Paulo prison to rescue three high-ranking members of a criminal gang.

The escape failed when prison guards opened fire.

And last week the director of a Rio prison was shot dead, apparently for trying to introduce stricter rules to improve security.




SEE ALSO:
Inmates die in Brazil crackdown
23 Jun 03  |  Americas
Mass jailbreak in Brazil
12 Apr 03  |  Americas
Brazil prison riot kills 10
29 Sep 02  |  Americas
Brazil's 'worst prison' closes
15 Sep 02  |  Americas
Four killed in Brazil prison revolt
12 Sep 02  |  Americas


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