Prison Break Attempt Ends in Mass Suicide

PRISON BREAK: Police units surround Kaohsiung Prison to prevent the escape of six armed inmates holding the prison warden and chief guard hostage. Photo: CNA

Six prisoners serving lengthy sentences at the Kaohsiung Prison in southern Taiwan attempted to escape on February 11, starting a 14-hour ordeal that ended in the mass suicide of all six inmates.

Led by the alleged leader of the Kaohsiung chapter of the Bamboo Union triad, Cheng Li-te, who was serving a 28.5-year sentence for murder, and accomplice Chin Yi-ming, serving a 46-year term for robbery and other crimes, the six convicts feigned illness to gain access to the prison infirmary. Once inside the infirmary, the six overpowered guards, taking them hostage, before proceeding to break into the prison armory and seize assault rifles, handguns, and over 200 rounds of ammunition. Shortly afterwards, they attempted to shoot their way out of the prison, but were rebuffed by prison guards as well as local and national police units that had meanwhile descended upon the prison. Warden Chen Shih-chih and head guard Wang Shih-tsang then offered themselves as hostages in exchange for the lower-ranked guards, which the convicts accepted. Amidst sporadic gunfights and intense negotiations, the inmates and their two hostages remained holed up in the prison throughout the night as police SWAT teams and military units, along with the press, took up positions surrounding the prison.

The prisoners demanded to meet with Chang An-lo, alleged “boss of bosses” of the Bamboo Union who claims to be out of the crime business and now heads the pro-unification Unionist Party. The request was denied, but Chang was able to reach the prisoners on his cell phone and reportedly warned them of an imminent raid by the police.

During the night and early morning, police assented to the hostage-takers’ request for food and two bottles of kaoliang liquor. After drinking the kaoliang, the prisoners released the two hostages unharmed and turned their weapons on themselves. The attempted prison break raised concerns of overcrowded and substandard conditions in the nation’s prison system, as well gaps in the monitoring of prisoners and the training of guards and police to handle such incidents.

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