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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

20 Prisoners Escape St. Pete Jails

ST. PETERSBURG — Twenty prisoners broke out of two jails at separate police stations in the Leningrad region early Monday, in one case after breaking down the wall of their holding cell.

As of 9 p.m., 10 escapees had been recaptured, and police search teams had been joined by some 100 troops from Interior Ministry units based in the region.

Most of the escapees, who are all male, have been charged with serious crimes, such as murder and robbery, and were awaiting trial. Some had already been convicted.

Fourteen suspects escaped from the police station in the town of Gatchina and six from Volosovo, south and southwest of St. Petersburg, respectively.

According to the police press service for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region, the Gatchina prisoners broke down the wall of their cell and fled, while in Volosovo the prisoners escaped by sawing through and removing the bars in their cell window. Both breakouts happened around 5 a.m. Police reports said no guards or civilians were hurt during the escape.

By 4 p.m., eight suspects had been seized — seven from Gatchina and one from Volosovo — and were immediately interrogated by police. By Monday evening, one more from each jail had been caught.

"These 14 [from Gatchina] are suspected of different crimes, mostly grave crimes such as murder, robbery and banditism," said Sergei Sosov, Gatchina's deputy police chief, in a telephone interview Monday.

According to Sosov, the escape could extend the prisoners' sentences, if they are convicted, by as much as eight years.

"This must be why the rest of the prisoners in that cell didn't try to escape," said Sosov, adding that there had been 29 people in the cell.

He also said he did not see any connection between the two breakouts, which happened 40 kilometers apart, calling their timing "a coincidence."

Sosov said he believed the getaways did not pose a threat to local residents, since no guards had been hurt and police had not found any ammunition missing from the prison.

However, he said, an "unpleasant" internal investigation was bound to take place, although he did not think negligence by guards had been behind the escape.

According to Volosovo prosecutor Lyubov Gei, the six escapees from Volosovo had not resorted to violence during the breakout. She said they presented "a certain danger, but [we hope] the incident will not have any unpleasant consequences."

A spokesperson for the Leningrad regional prosecutor's office, which is overseeing the investigation, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Mikhail Zharkoi, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry's prison directorate, said he did not recall a bigger breakout in recent history. The last comparable escape, he said, was in 1992, when 10 people fled from a pre-trial detention center in Buryatia.

"Escape attempts are more frequent in spring and summer, when escapees are less dependent [on finding shelter]," Zharkoi said.

He said a similar escape to the one in Gatchina took place in the mid-1990s in Irkutsk, when several detainees broke down the wall of their cell.

"The problem is that over 60 percent of pre-trial detention centers in Russia are housed in 18th- and 19th-century buildings, which need major repairs."

However, he added that escapes from prison camps, where prisoners are not isolated in guarded cells, are more common.