By Shannielle Thompson
The latest in a series of prison wars in Brazil broke out on January 14 at the State Penitentiary of Alcaçuz, in the north eastern state of Rio do Norte. It took approximately 14 hours for authorities to regain control of the premises the following morning.
The New York Times reported that the riot began when members of the First Capital Command (P.C.C) gang, escaped a nearby institution and invaded Alcaçuz during visiting hours on Saturday. According to Wilma Batista, the director of the prison agents’ union in the Rio Grande do Notre, there were only six prison agents on duty that day. The agents managed to clear all the visitors from the premises and take cover in a separate block before the escapees butchered members of a rival gang, the Rio Grande do Norte-based Crime Syndicate. 26 inmates had been killed, with some beheaded, others mutilated, and a few burned in the yard. This incident brings the current number of prison-riot-related killings to an estimated 120 since the beginning of the New Year.
This increase in prison riot deaths brings increased pressure from the international community as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other international organizations have criticized Brazil’s government on the overcrowding and deplorable conditions of their prison system. Major Eduardo Franco of the Rio Grande do Norte police, stated in a New York Times report, that the Alcaçuz prison, a facility with the capacity to house 620 inmates, had almost doubled its occupancy by housing 1100 prisoners. Batista added that for almost 2 years, prisoners freely wander around the Alcaçuz prison, as most cells have no bars.
Similar conditions have led to uprisings in other areas of the country. Prison authorities claim that the major cause of the riots is the fight between rivaling gangs to control drug smuggling routes. Last October’s split between Brazil’s two most influential narcotics allies, the São Paulo based- P.C.C and the Rio de Janeiro- based Red Command is said to be the offset of many of Brazil’s prison brawls.
Since the start of this year, approximately 184 prisoners escaped from neighboring facilities, Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex (Compaj) and Antonio Trinidad, in Manaus, a city in the northern state of Amazonas while one of the deadliest riots on record yet ensued at the former, reported BBC.
According to authorities, many of the prisons are understaffed and overcrowded causing many of the riots to last upwards of twelve hours, inmates butchered, electricity cut and compounds set on fire. While family members and other citizens worry about safety and fear for the return of a dark time from the past, prison officials worry about the security, physical and psychological state of their agents.
In December 2016, Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, “announced he would secure $360 million to improve prison infrastructure and security”, according to the Washington Post. Governors, such as José Melo de Oliveira, the current governor of Amazonas has pledged to use a part of that money to reform their state’s prison systems, however, the money is yet to be secured.