MEXICO CITY (AP) — About 140 inmates escaped Friday from a state prison in the northern Mexico border city of Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas.
The federal Interior Department blamed the breakout on local authorities, saying they did not properly guard the facility.
"The absence of effective methods of guarding and control by local authorities is deplorable, and it has caused frequent escapes from prisons that put the public at risk," the department said in a statement.
It called on state authorities to clean up their prison and judicial systems by increased screening and vetting of corrections officers. In past cases, prison guards — often underpaid or under threat from gangs — have been implicated in prison escapes.
Federal police were dispatched to patrol the area, and roadblocks were set up to search for escaped prisoners.
The department did not mention the number of inmates involved, saying only that it was "a significant number." The federal Attorney General's Office said initial reports indicated 148 escaped, but local media quoted the Tamaulipas state public safety department as putting the number at 141, equivalent to about 10 percent of the prison's population.
The jail break apparently occurred in the pre-dawn hours Friday.
Some of the inmates were being held on drug and weapons charges. Tamaulipas has been plagued by a steady wave of violence tied to turf battles between the Gulf and Zetas drug gangs, but it was unclear whether members of those groups were among the escaped inmates.
The jail break came on the same day that federal Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna addressed a graduating class of new prison guards, underlining the urgent need to professionalize correctional forces.
"We are making a historic effort to build a new prisons model, that will treat prison staff as efficient public servants," Garcia Luna said.
The new guard recruitment programs, supported in part by the U.S. government, include increased training, screening and vetting of guards.