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Riots, Hostage Taking, and Escape Training at Belize Central Prison

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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University

Prisons around the world are often plagued by overcrowding, tensions between staff and inmates, high levels of contraband that finds its way into the prison, and the constant threat of disturbances.

These disturbances can often escalate into riots, hostage-taking situations, or escapes. For example, in late January, 75 inmates escaped from a prison in Paraguay. Many of the escapees were gang members who fled into the community. Paraguay’s interior minister indicated that prison staff may have been complicit in the escape because many of the inmates escaped out the main gate.

Last month in Honduras, 34 inmates were killed in two separate riots. In December, 13 inmates were killed and 15 others were injured in a shoot-out in a prison in Panama, where officials found three AK-47 assault rifles and five pistols. In May of 2019, a prison riot in Guatemala resulted in seven inmates killed and required 1,500 soldiers and police officers to return the prison to order.

Belize Central Prison an Operating Model for the World

Despite these disheartening events in the region, Belize Central Prison stands out as a model correctional facility that has not experienced this type of violence or significant disturbances. Instead, Belize Central Prison has only a 10 percent recidivism rate thanks to a robust rehabilitation program. Order and discipline are maintained through mutual respect between staff and inmates.

To put into perspective how well Belize Central Prison is run and the level of order and discipline that exists, rival gang members in the streets are housed together in the prison without conflict. This includes around 100 gang members from MS-13, 18th Street, Crips, and Bloods. The prison management takes the stance that the rival gang members are all brothers. Within the prison it works.

[Related: Belize Central: A Model for Central American Prisons]

The key to Belize Central Prison’s success is its Christian-based operating model, which could be a prison operating model throughout the world. With an only 10 percent recidivism rate and no overcrowding issue in a country that has the fourth highest murder rate in the world, who could argue with the prison’s success?

The Calmness and Efficiency that Exist within the Prison Is Remarkable

I have been visiting the Belize Central Prison for the past year and the calmness and efficiency that exist within the prison are remarkable. I have seen firsthand the mutual respect between staff and inmates, the effectiveness of the faith-based rehabilitation programs, and the extensive opportunities for inmates to gain trade skills while serving their sentence.

Over the past year, I have become close friends with the Belize Prison CEO, Virgilio Murillo, who is responsible for the prison leadership which has been instrumental in its success.

In January, I had the opportunity to conduct training for the Belize Prison staff. Considering the issues that exist in prisons throughout Central and South America, the training topics included: responding to riots, prison escapes, and both inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-corrections officer hostage-taking situations. CEO Murillo provided the training opportunity to the prison’s 250 employees.

Training to Prevent Riots

The training covered topics that included factors that lead to riots and strategies for mitigating risks associated with riots. Also discussed were the physiological aspects of responding to a riot. The training included a case study of a prison hostage-taking incident that occurred in the United States and the psychological aspects of hostage-taking situations from both the perspective of the hostage taker and the victims.

One of the remarkable successes of the Belize Central Prison is its effectiveness in true rehabilitation through the prison’s counseling services and job skills training. The prison helps released felons overcome the stigma that often leads to poor job prospects. The training is designed to make the former prisoners into small business owners using the skills they learned in prison, such as woodworking, agriculture, masonry, and other trades.

To gain a good understanding of why the Belize Prison should be an operating model as well as their successes and challenges, watch the video below featuring me and CEO Murillo:

In conclusion, the popularity of the training on riots, hostage-taking situations, and escapes was reflected on the prison officers’ training surveys. They indicated that the training refocused their attention on the potential risks that exist in prison and provided information to mitigate those risks. There are additional opportunities to support the Belize Prison training. Anyone interested in learning more should reach out to CEO Murillo or to me. Mr. Murillo can be reached at and I can be reached at

About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been involved in homeland security for over two decades and he is an associate professor at American Military University. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on topics such as local police response to domestic terrorism, human trafficking, and narcotics trafficking. Most recently, he presented at the 2019 International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019. To contact the author, email For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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