Justice in Mexico

Prison Brawl in Tamaulipas leaves 31 dead, 13 wounded

1/5/12– A prison brawl in Altamira, Tamaulipas led to the deaths of 31 inmates and left 13 injured on January 4. The fight allegedly took place between inmate members of the Zeta and Gulf cartels, which continue to battle over control over the Tamaulipas area. An anonymous source has told ABC Español that the brawl began “apparently as a result of a dispute over control of illegal activities within the prison.” Inmates utilized homemade weapons in the dispute, including makeshift knives, clubs, and stones, reported the Washington Post. Those injured in the brawl are currently being questioned, which has led to the detention of 13 suspects so far.

The Altamira prison allegedly has the capacity to hold 2,000 inmates, but is currently housing upwards of 3,000 prisoners, many of whom are being held for drug related chargers. Prison overcrowding has been an issue in Mexico for years. In October 2011, nearly 550 prisoners were transferred from Baja California prisons to the Islas Marías to relieve overcrowding in federal penitentiaries. Also in 2011, 37 inmates were moved from a Guanajuato state prison in October, while 126 were transferred in August, and 700 in June, all to the Islas Marías prison colony. Read more about prison overcrowding and the resulting inmate fighting and said prisoner transfers here. Since the recent Tamaulipas dispute, the Altamira penal authorities have been accused of secrecy, not allowing clear methods of communication between the jail and those outside the prison.

According to the AFP, there have been 53 deaths due to prison brawls in the past three months. Prison riots in Tamaulipas in October 2011 also resulted in the death of 20 inmates.


Associated Press. “Police Detain 13 Suspects in Deadly Northeastern Mexico Prison Riot.” Washington Post. January 4, 2011.

MJM/TLB. “Riña en Penal al Norte de México Deja 31 Muertos (Oficial).” AFP. January 4, 2012.

EA-AG/MMG. “La Reyerta en Penal que Causo 31 Muertes Motivada por Pelea entre carteles.” ABC Español.  January 5, 2012.

Gonzalez, Agustin. “Autoridades en Tamaulipas mantienen hermetismo por riña en el penal de Altamira.” Milenio. January 5, 2012.

“Riñas en Penales del Norte de México Suman 58 Muertos en Tres Meses.” AFP. January 5, 2012.

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