San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Police seize weapons, drugs during La Reform prison raid

Police on Thursday seized 580 homemade knives, large quantities of liquor, marijuana and crack, cellphones and other forbidden items during a raid at Costa Rica’s trouble-plagued La Reforma prison 20 km northwest of the capital San José.

In addition to the weapons, which police say inmates likely fabricated inside the prison, Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) agents and prison guards also confiscated 68 liters of liquor and 10 cellphones, said OIJ assistant Francisco Segura.

The maximum security La Reforma prison has frequently made the news since a violent May 11 prison escape attempt that resulted in the deaths of two inmates and a prison guard (TT, May 11). During the three-hour standoff, inmates used handguns, fragmentation grenades and knives to take guards and other prisoners as hostages. Inmates also obtained a set of master keys to open cell doors in the prison’s maximum-security block.

Police also uncovered that some inmates had been operating a criminal extortion network from within the prison, using prohibited cellphones. The contraband seized during Thursday’s raid confirms Costa Rican prisons are plagued with corruption.

Investigators suspect prison officials or guards may have been involved in plotting and organizing the thwarted jailbreak. On May 22, Johel Araya, 45, the mastermind behind the escape attempt, was found beaten to death in his jail cell (TT, May 22). Ten prison guards are under investigation for the murder (TT, June 16).

Last week, OIJ Director Jorge Rojas told reporters that guard Francis Morales, one of 15 guards taken hostage by prisoners during the escape attempt, was killed by a bullet fired by an OIJ tactical group agent. “[Prisoner] Erlyn Hurtado held Francis, the guard, as a human shield and that is unfortunately when a bullet impacted [Morales’] thorax,” Rojas said last week (TT, June 24). Hurtado was also killed.

Also last week, criminology expert Patricia Molina told The Tico Times that alleged prisoner abuse at the hands of La Reforma guards could lead to another escape attempt or a possible prison riot.

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