The prisoners gave guards the slip through a 50-yard tunnel they dug to the jungle outside, embarrassed policemen said.
Reminiscent of the 1963 Hollywood hit, “The Great Escape,” the prisoners bored their tunnel through a cell block, under two buildings that housed inmates and beyond a prison wall topped with watchtowers.
Despite a manhunt launched by the police, only three prisoners had been captured by afternoon.
A police officer in Joao Pessoa in Paraiba state said the jailbreak was the largest in the state’s history.
At the time of the escape, the prison housed 700 inmates.
Prison officials could not be reached for comment and police said they did not know if the prison was overcrowded, as is often the case in Brazil.
Overcrowding and inhumane conditions inside jails often lead to escape attempts.