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81 die in Chilean prison fire - News and Editorial

Updated on December 9, 2010

The Story

Santiago, Chili- 81 inmates of the San Miguel prison, most of which were first time offenders perished in a prison fire yesterday. The fire allegedly began during a fight in the overcrowded prison, when a stove burner fell. The ensuing riot and chaos apparently caused prison officials to wait twenty minutes before contacting firefighters. The firefighters also made comments that they were obstructed by the police, and that getting through prison security took time. Nearly an hour had elapsed from the beginning of the fire. Prison officials deny that there was any lapse between the incident and the call.

Added to all this is the fact that it was visiting day in the prison, so many of the inmate's loved ones were on the scene when the news began spreading. Chilean president Sebastián Piñeramade a statement that he "hope(s) the blaze will call attention to the problems plaguing Chili's prisons."

Most Americans can not fathom the conditions of a Chilean prison. We have our 8th Amendment rights sparing us from Cruel and Unusual Punishment. The prison in question runs at about 70% over capacity.

Fourteen inmates were seriously injured, Seven suffered minor wounds. And the death toll stands at 81, but prison officials admit that it may rise. Only 31 bodies have been identified.

The Editorial

I will admit that when I first heard of this story that I felt little compassion for the deceased. I thought to myself that they were prisoners, probably repeat offenders, or lifers, and that they probably started the fire themselves.

But then I read the story. And I found that it was an accident that began with two men fighting. Then I continued reading and found that those men were probably fighting because tension was so high in the prison that is operating at nearly double it's capacity. And then to find that their deaths may have been attributed to a lack of response from prison officials.

Now we all know what would happen if that were to occur in America right? There would be a class action lawsuit on the desks of prison and state officials within days. There would be a settlement out of court and the lives of the deceased prisioner's family members would have some sort of closure to the event. There would be a media outcry for an immediate investigation into the prison and the prison system in general. There would have to be inquiries and independent analysis, right?

Do you think any of that is going to happen in Chili?

America is a watchdog for every nation in the world, would our government be out of line by intervening here?

Should the prison officials and the Chilean government be held accountable?

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      rizzo the rat 7 years ago

      while I feel for the prisoners we can't expect our form of gov't to be the pattern for the rest of the world. Each country must evolve and develop at their own pace and in respnse to it's people. Our country didn't evolve into what we have now overnight

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      radiowires 7 years ago

      I was very shocked after reading this article yes i feel the authorities were looking out for themselves they did not care about the inmates or the public for that matter i think the prison should be closed down like so many before