SAO PAULO – The massacre of 56 prisoners in a clash between gangs in a prison in Amazonia has renewed concern about the precarious conditions and overcrowding in the Brazilian penal system.
“All this is a consequence of a failed system that cannot continue,” Epitacio Almeida – president of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) human rights commission, which coordinated the negotiations for the release of the dozen hostages taken in the prison where the massacre took place – told EFE.
Almeida, who for the past seven years has participated as a mediator in prison riots, said that the mass murder in the penitentiary in the city of Manaus was the decisive point in a “war between factions” that has been under way for several years in the state of Amazonas, and throughout Brazil.
The massacre of inmates at the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex was the second largest in the history of Brazil’s prison system, after the 1992 Carandiru massacre that resulted in the deaths of 111 inmates in a Sao Paulo prison, although most of those deaths were caused by security forces storming the facility to wrest control from the rioting inmates.
The brawl started Sunday afternoon when members of the Familia do Norte (FDN), the gang that controls the prison, picked a fight with members of the First Capital Command (PCC), a criminal organization based in Sao Paulo.
Dozens of inmates were beheaded, mutilated and set on fire during the fight, which the FDN started to send a “message” to the PCC about its power in the state, Amazonas Public Safety Secretary Sergio Fontes said in a press conference.
“There were only deaths on one side. The FDN massacred the suspected members of the PCC and a few other inmates,” Fontes said.
The FDN is an ally of the Red Command (CV), a gang from Rio de Janeiro that is a rival of the PCC.
The leaders of the riot will be identified and transferred to a prison administered by the federal government, Attorney General Alexandre de Moraes said after meeting with Amazonas authorities to analyze the crisis in that state, where a total of four prison riots occurred on Sunday and Monday.
Four inmates died in one of those other riots and 184 escaped from various prisons, although about 40 have already been recaptured by the authorities.
According to official estimates, between 2000 and 2014 Brazil’s prison population grew by 170 percent to some 622,000 inmates, putting the South American nation in fourth place worldwide in numbers of prisoners, after only the United States, Russia and China.
Brazil’s prisons, however, are only designed to hold about 372,000 inmates.