A total of 46 inmates escaped from a public prison in the northern Brazilian city of Natal early on Tesday 12 January, in the largest single prison break in the history of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The inmates, the majority of which are held on charges of theft, escaped through a tunnel dug into the ground, which directors of the Raimundo Nonato prison said measured 131ft long.

According to the Military Police, several inmates had been seen escaping by taxi or on foot around 3am local time. Some left their uniforms strewn along the route hoping it would prevent their being identified.

Seven of the escaped inmates were recaptured on the Wednesday morning, the whereabouts of the others was not confirmed. The prison centre has a capacity for 216 inmates, but currently holds 430, with just 12 staff. At least three prison breaks were recorded at the unit in 2015.

A civil court judge specialising in penitentiary matters, Henrique Baltazar, said that such overcrowding could lead to an incident on an even greater scale. "Soon we are going to see a record prison break, because the situation is getting worse," he said. "The prisons are overstretched, the authorities do not have control, and the state shows no interest in building more [prisons]," Baltazar added.