The following table lists the worst known incidents of prison violence of the last few decades.

Number killed
Description of events
Further information
Attica Correctional Facility, Buffalo, New York, U.S.A.
An inmate uprising in protest of terrible conditions erupted on September 9. Four days later, it was put down in a barrage of tear gas and gunfire. In a 1992 trial, a jury found that Attica's former deputy warden was liable for having overseen brutal reprisals against inmates. Survivors of the violence, including inmates and prison employees, described at the trial how state troopers and guards forced naked inmates to run over broken glass past a gauntlet of correction officers swinging nightsticks. The inmate rebellion and its bloody conclusion was a watershed event for prison reform in the United States.

New York Special Commission on Attica, Attica (New York: Praeger, 1972); H. Badillo & M. Haynes, A Bill of No Rights: Attica and the American Prison System (New York: Outerbridge & Lazard, 1972)
Tadmor military prison, Palmyrene desert (200 k north of Damascus), Syria
About 500
Security detainees were taken from their dormitories and murdered in cold blood by commando forces from the Defense Brigades and the 138th Security Brigade, the day after an assassination attempt on the life of President Hafez al-Asad.

HRW/Middle East, "Syria's Tadmor Prison," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, April 1996
Lurigancho prison, Lima, Peru; El Fronton prison, Lima, Peru; and Santa Bárbara women's prison, Callao, Peru
At least 244
Incarcerated members of Shining Path staged coordinated uprisings at three Lima-Callao prisons. The government reacted violently, declaring a war zone in the prisons and calling in the armed forces to quell the riots. The official Parliamentary Commission that investigated the events concluded that in Lurigancho prison, where all 124 rebellious prisoners died, no fewer than ninety werevictims of extrajudicial executions.

Human Rights Watch, Global Report on Prisons (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993)
Miguel Castro Castro prison (Canto Grande), Lima, Peru
5/6/92 to 5/10/92
On May 6, security forces entered the prison, which held prisoners accused or convicted of belonging to Shining Path or the MRTA, in order to transfer a group of women prisoners to another facility. With the aid of some male prisoners, the women resisted transfer, and three policemen and ten prisoners were killed in the ensuing battle. Mediation of the conflict by third parties was rejected by the government, which opted for a frontal assault on May 10, resulting in many more prisoner deaths. There is evidence that excessive force was used and that several inmates were executed after surrendering.

Human Rights Watch, Global Report on Prisons (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993)
Casa de Detenção, Carandiru prison complex, São Paulo, Brazil
After a fight broke out among prisoners, military police stormed the Casa de Detenção's Pavilhon 9, an egregiously overcrowded housing unit. The police shock troops made little if any effort to negotiate with prisoners before invading. After gaining control of the situation, the police forced prisoners to strip naked and summarily executed dozens of them, many of whom were trying to hide under their beds. No police were injured by gunfire, undermining the official story that the police engaged in a "shootout."

The police commander (Ubiratan Guimarães), has since been elected to the São Paulo State Legislative Assembly. As a state legislator, he benefits from parliamentary immunity from prosecution, even for past crimes.

HRW/Americas, "Brazil: Prison Massacre in São Paulo," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, October 1992.
Retén de Catia, Caracas, Venezuela
At least 63
On November 27, the day of an attempted coup d'etat, the inmates of Catia prison rioted. When the small number of civilian guards assigned to the facility fled, and the Metropolitan Police failed to regain control over it, troops of the Fifth Regional Command of the National Guard were called in to retake the prison, which they did with the utmost violence. Not only was lethal force used indiscriminately, but the evidence suggests that the National Guard engaged in summary executions of prisoners. Many prisoners were shot at close range.

Americas Watch, Human Rights in Venezuela (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993)
Sabaneta prison, Maracaibo, Venezuela
At least 108
On the morning of January 3, between 50 and 150 inmates from one housing unit attacked another housing unit, setting fire to it. For about two hours, as civilian guards and members of the National Guard watched, the attacking prisoners shot, stabbed, and even decapitated inmates who managed to escape the inferno. A number of sources interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Americas in the wake of the violence indicated that the authorities' delay in intervening to stop the violence was deliberate, reflecting an intentional decision to let prisoners kill each other

Americas Watch, "Venezuela: Prison Massacre in Maracaibo," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, February 1994
Serkadji prison, Algiers, Algeria
2/21/95 to 2/22/95
96 (according to the government)

100-110 (according to nongovernmental sources)

During an unsuccessful escape attempt on the morning of February 21 in Serkadji prison, four guards were killed. The facility held primarily Islamist inmates, and after the escape attempt failed, the rebels freed other Islamist prisoners and seized hostages from among the common criminal inmates. After negotiations between prisoners and the authorities failed, security forces invaded the facility, using massive force to end the rebellion.

Prisoners reported that many inmates were deliberately killed by security forces that quelled the revolt. Some wounded inmates were reportedly "finished off" by security forces, and other inmates were rounded up and executed after all resistence ended. The dead were buried without autopsies being conducted.

HRW/Middle East, "Algeria: Six Months Later, Cover-Up Continues in Prison Clash that Left 100 Inmates Dead," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, August 1995
El Paraiso Reeducation Center (also known as La Planta prison), Caracas, Venezuela
In the early morning hours of October 22, just after conducting the day's first head count, members of the National Guard locked the prisoners of Wing Four into their cells and fired two or three tear gas canisters in with them. A blaze immediately broke out in one cell, which held some fifty prisoners in a twelve-by-twelve-foot space. Scrambling out through an upper window whose bars they forced open, half of the cell's inhabitants succeeded in escaping the inferno. The remaining prisoners, trapped in the locked cell, burned to death while the National Guardsmen made no attempt to save them. The flames were so intense that numerous bodies were charred almost beyond recognition; it took more than a week for all of them to be identified.

La Planta, with a capacity of 500 inmates, housed over 1,700 at the time of the fire.

HRW/Americas, Punishment Before Trial: Prison Conditions in Venezuela (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1997)
Khujand prison, Khujand, Tajikistan
4/15/97 to 4/17/97
24 (according to the government); over 100 (according to nongovernmental sources)
Security forces stormed the prison on April 17 to quell a riot. Because of the Tajik government's refusal to provide information about the incident, very little is known about its circumstances; even the number of persons killed is subject to widely varying estimates. Media reports incident that bodies were released in groups of two and three in order to avoid fomenting tension among the population.

Human Rights Watch World Report 1998 (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1997)

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