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people carry a casket outside the womens prison in hondurasRelatives of a victim of the deadly prison riot at the Centro Femenino de Adaptacion Social women's prison load a casket with the body into a truck outside a morgue in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 21, 2023. The riot the previous day killed at least 46 women, most of them burned to death, in violence linked to gang activity, authorities said. (OSV News photo/Fredy Rodriguez, Reuters)

MEXICO CITY (OSV News) — Catholics in Honduras prayed for the victims of a horrific massacre in a women’s prison—an attack underscoring the power of the country’s criminal gangs and their control over correctional facilities. Many Catholic clergy expressed outrage, while demanding an overhaul of the country’s prison system.

“Tragedy repeats itself,” tweeted Bishop Ángel Garachana of San Pedro Sula. “Who doesn’t shudder with pain for them and their families? Who doesn’t indignantly wonder when the radical and comprehensive transformation of a corrupt and failed prison system is going to be undertaken?”

Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno, director of a human rights center in the city of Progreso, tweeted, “Massacres are an epidemic in Honduran prisons. To combat and eradicate it, a new prison system is required with audacious public policy proposals and implemented by an interdisciplinary commission with the presence of international agencies.”

The massacre occurred June 20 at the women’s prison in Támara, about 19 miles from the capital, Tegucigalpa, with authorities attributing the violence to an attack by the Barrio 18 gang.

At least 46 women were killed in the atrocity, though many of the bodies were too badly burned to be easily identified, according to press reports.

Authorities considered the attack premeditated. Gangsters pushed toward their rivals’ part of the prison, spraying their victims with bullets and hacking them with machetes. They locked some of the survivors in cells where they were doused with a flammable liquid and incinerated. At least 46 women were killed in the atrocity, though many of the bodies were too badly burned to be easily identified, according to press reports.

President Xiomara Castro called the attack “monstrous” and “planned by maras (gangsters) in full view of security officials.” She promised she “will take drastic actions.”

Castro subsequently replaced her security minister and tasked military police with taking control of the nation’s 21 prisons, according to The Associated Press.

The Barrio 18 gang and rival Mara Salvatrucha, called MS-13, control neighborhoods, recruit teenagers by force and extort businesses large and small—forcing owners to flee if they can’t make the payments.

Gang control often extends into Honduras’s prisons. Self-government on the inside and overcrowding were also to be blamed for the tragedy, according to a June 20 statement from the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa’s prison ministry. The prison in Támara housed seven pregnant women and 22 inmates’ children in a separate section, according to the news outlet Contracorriente.

“We join the pain of the relatives who are currently demanding answers to the many questions hanging over this sad event: the abuse of power, self-government within penitentiaries (and) doubts about how firearms … are brought in,” Oblate Father Agustín Lara Parrales, archdiocesan prison chaplain, said in the statement.

“We demand that the authorities explain this cruel event that leads to an answer to what happened, and reinforce security that works effectively and promptly; respecting the rights of those deprived of liberty and ensuring human dignity,” the statement said.

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