At least 26 killed in another Brazil prison riot

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

In the latest of a series of prison riots in prisons across Brazil, dozens of inmates, mostly rival gangs, were reported dead at the State Penitentiary of Alcaçuz, a state prison located in Natal, the capital of the Brazilian state, Rio Grande do Norte. Reports vary but, as of Sunday, the death toll may have reached 26. According to the BBC, this figure is triple the initial reports.

Natal from file.
Image: Beraldo Leal.

Prison authorities said that some victims were decapitated. Prison coordinator Zemilton Silva witnessed this happen to three men, and forensic report that there have been more.

The Ministry of Justice and state-run news outlet Agência Brasil said the latest riot started at around 5:00 p.m., local time, on Saturday. It continued until the security forces quelled the riot on Sunday at around 7:15 a.m..

Agence France Presse (AFP) and Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo report that the gang members of the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) and Comando Vermelho were the latest riot's participants. CNN reports that its participants were PCC and Sindicato do Crime do RN. The gangs had been housed in separate parts of the prison. Six of the ringleaders have been captured and sent to other facilities. Like other riots this year, overcrowding may have contributed to the latest riot. According to Brazil's justice department, the Alcaçuz prison houses more than 1,000 inmates on a capacity of 620.

Reports about authorities killed or injured in the riots are not yet confirmed, says the BBC.

O Globo also reported that one inmate attempted to escape but was quickly recaptured. No other inmates have been reported missing, but nine injured inmates were sent to hospital.

O Globo says the cause of the riot was drug-related. PCC and Comando Vermelho cooperated on drug trade from mid-1990s to reportedly summer 2016. Their split led Comando Vermelho to team up with five other gang organizations "to counter the PCC's growing might."

The Alcaçuz prison riot is part of a series of Brazilian prison riots this year. At least 100 inmates died in this month's previous two riots, one in Amazonas and another in Roraima. The Amazonas prison riot on January 1–2 resulted in at least 56 killed inmates, of whom many were beheaded and dismembered. The Roraima riot on January 6 resulted in at least 33 killed, of whom many were disembowelled.

In the wake of this year's riots, the Brazilian President Michel Temer announced to Reuters yesterday a plan, under joint cooperation of state and federal governments, to build nearly thirty prisons by 2018, including "five maximum security prisons to house the most violent convicts," and to create intelligence units in effort to counter the influence of powerful inmates. Temer announced more than one billion Brazilian reals (US$309 million) as the budget of the plan.

However, human rights activists and experts were skeptical about building more prisons. Camila Nunes, a sociologist of the Federal University of ABC, told the AFP "medium- and long-term policies to reduce the vulnerability of certain social groups [and] to prioritize prevention rather than repression" are needed.

Reuters reported Alexandre de Moraes, minister of the Justice Department, recently authorized the state of Rio Grande do Norte to spend 13 million Brazilian reals to upgrade and expand prison equipment. De Moraes promised to prevent more prison riots by increasing funds and prison security.

Meanwhile, Luiz Alberto Cartaxo, the prison chief for the southern Paraná state, said an explosion on Sunday broke a guarding wall of a Piraquara prison, prompting at least 21 inmates to escape. Cartaxo also reported that two other inmates were killed by police during their escape attempt.

A 2014 report by Brazil's justice department analyzes the statistics of the nation's prison population. The country has more than 622,000 inmates, mostly young black men, exceeding the capacity by at least 50 percent. Brazil is placed fourth in the world's largest prison population, surpassed by the respective numbers of those in the United States, in China, and in Russia.

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