Brazil recaptures inmates who escaped in COVID-19 row

Hundreds of prisoners rebelled and fled from various jails in the interior of Sao Paulo on March 16, 2020 after authorities suspended a temporary release of inmates to prevent the spread of the coronavirus

Brazilian authorities said Tuesday they had recaptured 444 inmates who escaped from their minimum-security prisons after their right to leave on temporary furloughs was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But an unknown number of inmates were still missing after a series of rebellions Monday in four prisons in Sao Paulo state, officials said.

The mutinies broke out when authorities announced they were suspending the inmates' right to leave for up to five week-long home visits per year.

They said they feared the returning prisoners would bring "heightened risk of spreading the new coronavirus among a vulnerable population" -- their fellow inmates.

But that caused hundreds of prisoners to rebel against their guards and escape.

The Sao Paulo state prison service said in a statement 444 had been recaptured.

However, around 600 inmates in all are believed to have escaped, according to Brazilian media reports.

The escapees were being held in "semi-open prisons," which allow inmates to leave during the day for work and make extended home visits periodically.

The recaptured inmates "will lose the right to benefit from the semi-open system," state prisons official Nivaldo Cesar Restivo told TV network Globo.

"They will now serve their sentences in normal prisons."