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Brazil prison riot: ‘At least 30 dead’ in Natal violence

Brazil prison riot: 'At least 30 dead' in Natal violence

Prisoners took to the rooftops during the riot

At least 30 people have died during a 14-hour riot in a Brazilian prison, police said.

The revised death toll is three times what was initially reported, and could increase further, the sources said.

On Saturday afternoon, violence erupted between members of rival gangs at Alcacuz prison, starting a riot which lasted until a dawn raid the following day.

Earlier, prison officials said some of the victims had been decapitated.

"We could see the heads ripped off'' three of the dead prisoners, said Zemilton Silva, coordinator of the prison system.
It is not yet known if any prison officers or police staff were injured during the incident.

The riot is believed to have started when members of one of Brazil's powerful criminal organisations attacked their rivals, who were housed in a separate wing.

Details are still emerging as authorities restore order and remove the dead and injured from the complex.

Video footage from the scene showed prisoners roaming the rooftops of the prison, and smoke billowing from at least one building.

After police regained control, prisoners were stripped and lined up under guard

Several reports said prisoners had cut off electricity to the site at the beginning of the violence, Rio de Janeiro's O Globo newspaper reported one inmate had temporarily escaped, but was quickly recaptured.

No prisoners are believed to be missing, but several were taken to nearby hospitals.

Alcacuz prison is designed to hold 620 inmates, but now holds more than 1,000 in overcrowded conditions – a common problem throughout the country's prison system.


This is the third major riot in Brazil this year. Nearly 100 inmates died in riots earlier this month in prisons in the states of Amazonas and Roraima.

Riots are not uncommon in Brazil's overcrowded jails, which are largely controlled by powerful criminal gangs.

But the scale of the violence this year has put pressure on President Michel Temer to address the problem.

After the Amazonas prison riot, the government announced plans to build five more high security jails and to create new intelligence units to try to curb the power of the gangs behind bars.

Brazil prison riots: What's the cause?

Overcrowding is a serious problem

A spate of violence in Brazil's prisons has cast a spotlight on a system which appears to be near a state of collapse.

Almost 100 inmates lost their lives in the first week of January alone – brutally murdered, the guards apparently unable to stop the bloodshed.

But how has it come to this?

Problem one: Overcrowding

A crackdown on violent and drug-related offences in recent years has seen Brazil's prison population soar since the turn of the century.

Brazil prisons


Number of inmates in 2014

  • 232,755 Inmates in 2000

  • 1,424 Detention centres

  • 157% Average occupancy rate

National Prison Administration, World Prison Brief

The prison in Roraima state where 33 inmates were killed on 6 January held 1,400 inmates when a deadly riot started. That is double its capacity.

Overcrowding makes it hard for prison authorities to keep rival factions separate. It also raises tensions inside the cells, with inmates competing for limited resources such as mattresses and food.

In the relatively wealthy state of Sao Paulo, a single guard oversees 300 to 400 prisoners in some prisons, Camila Dias, a sociologist at the Federal University of ABC in Sao Paulo and expert on Brazil's prison system, told Reuters.

That means it is relatively easy for prisoners – and gangs – to take control of the facilities. As a result, "when the prisoners want to have an uprising, they have an uprising," Ms Dias said.

Drugs gang 'kills 33 inmates' in Brazilian jail

Brazil sets out security overhaul after deadly riot

Brazil prison riot kills at least 56

Problem two: Gang warfare

Killings are already common within the walls of Brazil's prisons – 372 inmates lost their lives in this way in 2016, according to Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper – but this recent surge has been linked to the breakdown in a two-decade truce of sorts between the country's two most powerful gangs.

A lack of guards means prisoners can take control, experts say. Pictured: a riot in 2014

Up until recently, the Sao Paulo-based First Capital Command (PCC) drug gang and Rio de Janeiro's Red Command had a working relationship, supposedly to ensure the flow of marijuana, cocaine and guns over Brazil's porous borders and into its cities.

But recently they have fallen out – although the exact reasons why remain unclear.

And following the government crackdown on criminal gangs, there are thousands of members of both gangs locked up inside Brazilian prisons.

Rafael Alcadipani, a public security expert at the Getulio Vargas Foundation think tank in Sao Paulo, told Reuters it means any feud between the two sides on the streets will almost certainly spill over into the largely "self-regulated" jails.

"We see that as soon as we have a gang war, these killings are inevitably going to happen because the state has no control over the prisons," he said.

Problem three: Lack of resources

Many Brazilian prisons are underfunded.

The army patrols outside a prison in northern Brazil where more than 30 inmates died

Following the deadly riots in Amazonas, state governor Jose Melo asked the federal government for equipment such as scanners, electronic tags and devices which block mobile phone signals inside prisons.

His request illustrates the lack of basic equipment in prisons which house large numbers of prisoners.

He also said that the state police force was struggling to cope and requested that federal forces be sent.

Poorly-trained and badly-paid prison guards often face inmates who not only outnumber them but who also feel they have little to lose as they face long sentences already.

Following the 1 January riot, which left 56 inmates dead in a prison in Manaus, the Brazilian government announced a plan to modernise the prison system.

But with Brazil going through its worst recession in two decades and a 20-year cap on public spending in place, it is hard to see how the government plans to fund it.


Additional links:

More on the issue of Brazilian prisons:
-Death toll of Brazil prison riot rises to 25; decapitations are seen (=more on this issue at the New York Times).
-The barbarism of Brazilian prisons (at Al Jazeera, includes a description of how poor, black people are disproportionately imprisoned).

On racism in Brazil:
-Racial Discrimination and Miscegenation: The Experience in Brazil (i.e. from the U.N.).
-Brazil's color bind (at The Globe and Mail).

Other related issues:
-Brazil: Shocking U-turn on vote against lowering age for children to be tried as adults (at Amnesty International).
-Brazil's prison system faces 'profound deterioration' if youth crime law passes (from The Guardian, June 2015). "Brazil’s justice minister has described his country’s violent and overcrowded prison system as “terrible” and warned that it will only get worse if congress votes this week to lower the age of criminal responsibility." (NB: This law did eventually pass.)
-Global prison trends 2015 (from UNODC). From the report: "In Brazil, the ‘depenalisation’ of drug use appears to have led to more users being charged with trafficking offences for which sentences were increased. This, in turn, is one of the main factors behind the increase in Brazil’s prison population in recent years."
-Crime and violence in Brazil: systematic review of time trends, prevalence rates and risk factors. Agressive and Violent Behavior 2013; 18(5):471-483.

OP: Please note the trigger warnings. Also, I put the detention tag because I couldn't find a 'prison' one. Hopefully this is all right.

Source: ONTD_Political

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