At least two members of the Venezuelan national guard and an inmate were dead on Friday after security forces launched a massive operation to retake control of the El Rodeo prison, where 22 people have been killed in rioting.
Some 1,300 inmates were backed into a part of the prison and refused to surrender late Friday after a day-long raid involving thousands of national guard troops managed to take over most the facility, gaining control of 70% of the prison population, estimated at around 4,700 inmates, officials said.
The prison, originally designed to hold just 750 prisoners, saw a deadly brawl last Sunday that left 21 prisoners and one visitor dead, and a portion of the inmates had retained control of most the facility since then.
In the raid on Friday, security forces recovered rifles, shotguns, pistols and grenades, and seized drug stashes and over 100 cellphones, Venezuela's deputy minister for public safety, Nestor Reverol, told reporters.
The operation had also left 22 troops wounded, said Luis Motta, major general of the country's national guard.
Outside the prison, dozens of desperate relatives fearing more prisoner deaths awaited news from authorities, as the gun battles raged inside.
The prison riot at El Rodeo, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Caracas, was the most violent in Venezuela since 1999, when a battle between guards and prisoners left 27 people dead, Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami told VTV.
Experts have voiced concern over drastic overcrowding in prisons across the country, where there are 50,000 people incarcerated in a system meant to hold no more than 15,000 inmates.
Each year more than 300 inmates are killed in prisons in Venezuela, one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere.
On Thursday, the Washington, DC-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urged the Venezuelan government to take "concrete measures" to safeguard the lives of its prisoners.
Earlier this week, the government announced the creation of a ministry to oversee the "humanization" of the country's prison system.