Inmates hold 15 hostage at Venezuela prison

By JORGE RUEDA | May 21, 2011 | 8:12 PM EDT

National Guard Soldiers stand guard at the main entrance of the La Planta prison in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, May 21, 2011. Venezuelan authorities say inmates at the Caracas prison are holding the warden and 14 other officers hostage. About 200 relatives of prisoners temporarily blocked an adjacent highway to demand action by authorities. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Inmates at a Caracas prison seized the warden and 14 other officers and were holding them hostage Saturday to press demands for changes, a government official said.

The inmates demanded that prison officials be removed due to an incident in which they alleged that troops mistreated some prisoners, national prisons director Consuelo Cerrada said.

Cerrada told state television that 15 prison employees including the warden had been held since Friday afternoon inside La Planta prison. She said authorities were optimistic they could resolve the situation in talks the inmates.

About 200 relatives of prisoners temporarily blocked an adjacent highway to demand action by authorities.

The prison uprising began at 5 p.m. Friday when inmates clashed with National Guard troops, whom prisoners accused of mistreating a group of inmates as they were being taken to the courts, Cerrada said.

Cerrada said that four inmates were hospitalized for injuries and that three of them later were returned to the prison. It was unclear when or how those injuries occurred, and she did not give details.

Mayorlet de Santiago, a spokeswoman for relatives of inmates at the prison, said: "It can't be that every time they're transferred to court their human rights are violated. They come back beaten."

She said she had been informed that all of the hostages were being treated well and given food and water.

In a similar incident at another prison near Caracas earlier this month, inmates took the prison director and others hostage, and released them eight days later after officials agreed to conditions including dismissing one administrator and providing medical services.

Violence is common in Venezuela's severely crowded prisons, where inmates can obtain firearms and other weapons with the help of corrupt guards.