Bloody Prison Attack Leaves at Least 52 Dead in Northern Brazil

(Bloomberg) -- At least 52 prisoners were killed during a prison riot in the northern Brazilian state of Para on Monday, with 16 of the victims decapitated, according to a statement from prison authorities.

The superintendent of the Regional Recovery Center in Altamira, Jarbas Vasconcelas, said that the violence broke out as a result of a territorial dispute between two rival criminal gangs battling for control of the institution. Leaders from the Class A Command set fire to a cell containing members of the Red Command and took two prison guards hostage, both of whom were released unharmed. The incident, which last around 5 hours, started around 7 a.m., the statement added, and it has not been possible to recover all the bodies.

Brazil has the world’s third-largest prison population -- with over 700,000 inmates -- and bloody riots are a regular occurrence in its overcrowded, unsanitary penitentiaries. At least 55 prisoners were killed in violent clashes between rival drug factions in several prisons in the neighboring state of Amazonas in May, following a spate of other brutal attacks in the country’s northern jails in late 2016 and early 2017. While the prison authorities in Altamira say that this particular unit was not overcrowded, a report by the National Justice Council early this month described the conditions there as “terrible.”

“We lack basic conditions for humans to live in our jails,” said Edson Knippel, a professor of law at the Mackenzie Presbyterian University in Sao Paulo. “That’s why we have these riots.”

While President Jair Bolsonaro has yet to comment on the incident, Justice Minister Sergio Moro wrote on Twitter that the ringleaders would be isolated in federal prisons. “In my opinion, they should stay there forever,” he wrote.

Other conservative lawmakers went further. Gilson Cardoso Fahur, a federal deputy from the southern state of Parana posted a video on social media, noting the fact that the dead prisoners won’t have an opportunity to re-offend.

“They won’t be missed at all,” he said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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