Around 50 common criminals escaped from jail overnight in southern Tunisia after attacking guards, the head of the country's prison service Habib Sboui said on Monday.
By Monday afternoon 32 of the inmates who had escaped from the prison in Gabes had been recaptured, the interior ministry said in a statement.
The jailbreak happened after guards went to a cell in response to a call for help, but when they unlocked the door they were attacked by inmates who then escaped.
"The prisoners pretended that someone had been hurt with a fan. The guards rushed to the scene but when they opened the cell door they were attacked," Sboui said, adding that three guards were hospitalised for injuries.
He said an inquiry has been launched to determine the circumstances of the escape and establish responsibility, and criticised the "lamentable infrastructure" of the Gabes prison.
"It's an opportunity to appeal to Tunisian society and to donors to contribute to the improvement of this prison," Sboui added.
Tunisian prisons are notoriously overcrowded, with some holding three times as many detainees as they were designed for.
Official statistics published in May said there are 22,000 prisoners in the country's jails.
Tunisia witnessed a massive prison exodus at the start of 2011, with around 9,500 detainees escaping shortly after the revolution that toppled former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
There have been a number of large-scale jailbreaks across the region in past weeks, notably in the Libyan city of Benghazi where nearly 1,300 inmates escaped in late July with the suspected assistance of Al-Qaeda.