Brazil recaptures 517 prisoners after virus prompts mass escape
Rio de Janeiro - More than 500 prisoners have been recaptured after mass escapes from four Brazilian prisons that had suspended a leave of absence to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the state of Sao Paulo said in a statement on Tuesday.
The mass breakout occurred in the semi-open prisons of Mongagua, Tremembe and Porto Feliz, as well as in one semi-open wing of Mirandopolis prison on Monday after authorities announced that the furlough - due to take place on Thursday - had been cancelled.
"The measure was necessary because the benefit would include more than 34,000 convicts of the semi-open regime who, returning to prison, would have high potential to install and propagate coronavirus within a vulnerable population," the state government said in a statement.
The penitentiary administration secretariat said that 517 prisoners had been recaptured with the help of military police, but did not specify the number of prisoners still at large. Human rights news website Ponte reported that as many as 1,500 prisoners had escaped.
Brazil's prisons are massively overcrowded, housing about 287,000 more inmates than they have room for, according to data released earlier this month. Many prisons in Brazil are controlled by gangs who use them as bases to organize criminal activity on the outside.
Brazil has the third-highest number of incarcerated people in the world, behind the United States and China, according to the online database World Prison Brief.
The news came as the Brazilian Health Ministry confirmed the first death linked to the outbreak - a 62-year-old man with a history of diabetes, hypertension and prostate enlargement.
According to the ministry's latest figure, the country currently has 234 confirmed cases of the virus on its territory.
The virus has reached all Latin American countries except El Salvador, Nicaragua and Haiti. There are no confirmed cases in Belize, which borders Mexico and Guatemala, but is not considered part of Latin America.