Reuters International

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - At least 200 prisoners escaped from a minimum-security Brazil prison during an uprising on Thursday, with about half recaptured within hours of the prison break, state prison officials said.

The inmates fled from the Jardinopolis prison, about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city. There was no immediate word on possible deaths or injuries among guards or inmates.

Sao Paulo state penitentiary officials said the inmates had set fire to several cells in one wing of the prison during a routine morning role call.

Amid the chaos that ensued, scores of prisoners knocked down a 13-foot (4 metre) tall mesh security fence, allowing them to flee into surrounding sugar cane fields and along a nearby river.

The Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, citing penitentiary officials, said the prison housed over 1,800 inmates, although it was built to hold just over 1,000.

State authorities declined to comment on reported overcrowding at the facility and did not respond to a request for information about the type of crimes committed by prisoners housed there.

Prison uprisings and escapes are frequent in Brazil, which has long been criticized by human rights organizations for its prison conditions.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Tom Brown)


 Reuters International