In the heart of Azuay province, the notorious Turi prison has once again become a hotbed of tension and instability, leaving its staff and inmates grappling with constant threats and violence.
Controlled predominantly by the feared Los Lobos criminal gang, Turi prison has been a center of turmoil, attracting attention due to the recurring incidents of kidnappings and warnings issued to its staff by the inmates when demands are not met.
The most recent bout of chaos unfolded on July 24 and 25, 2023, when nearly 50 prison guards found themselves detained by the inmates. The incident marked a shocking reminder of the volatile conditions prevailing within the prison walls.
Azuay Governor Consuelo Orellana, who visited the prison after the ordeal, claimed that the situation was under control “for the moment.” However, this was not the first instance of prison staff being held hostage due to prisoner demands.
Constant threats and fear
Sources close to the inmates and staff have shed light on the grim realities faced within the prison’s confines. Fear for their lives and stability has become an ever-present companion for those working at Turi prison. One such harrowing incident took place in April 2023 when inmates demanded the transfer of Los Lobos gang leaders from La Roca to other prisons. This demand triggered an intense hostage situation that left staff members feeling vulnerable and exposed to grave dangers.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a person from the prison’s medical area revealed, “We fear for our safety and our stability. What we have been through is terrible; we need protection or some guarantee.” Another staff member echoed similar sentiments, stating that fear had silenced many within the prison, as they refrained from reporting incidents for fear of potential reprisals.
The plight of Turi prison has also spilled over to the surrounding community of Turi, a rural tourist parish located in the south of Cuenca. The prison’s history of violence, including the February 2021 and April 2022 massacres that claimed the lives of 53 prisoners, has instilled fear in the local population. Frequent attempts at mutinies and violence within the prison walls have forced authorities to bolster security measures, leading to regular military patrols and road closures during alert situations.
Infrastructure contributes to violence
Governor Orellana acknowledged the pressing issues at the prison, including its dilapidated infrastructure, which has contributed to the escalating violence. The poor conditions have compromised security filters and access points, further exacerbating the challenges faced by the prison staff in maintaining control. The maximum-security pavilion, severely damaged during a violent outbreak in April 2023, remains unaddressed, leaving it vulnerable to potential security breaches.
Efforts to address the crisis at Turi prison are underway. The National Service for Attention to Persons Deprived of Liberty has initiated the process of repairing the damaged pavilion and enhancing security measures. Additionally, a unified command post has been established within the prison premises to monitor events closely and respond swiftly to any potential emergencies.
However, overcoming the challenges at Turi prison requires a multi-faceted approach. Effectively tackling gang activity, implementing comprehensive prison reforms, and investing in infrastructure upgrades are all essential components in creating a safe and rehabilitative environment for both inmates and staff.