Brazil jail riot in Para state leaves 57 dead as gangs fight
16 of the victims were decapitated
36 others others suffocated after the prison buildings were set on fire, prison authorities said
The fight between rival gangs at the Altamira prison erupted around 7am Monday morning, during breakfast
Heavy police presence and billowing smoke were both seen at the Altimira prison in Brazil’s Para state on Monday morning
At least 57 people have been killed in a prison riot in Brazil which saw rival gangs battle for five hours, officials say.
Gang members from one prison block invaded another part of Altamira jail in Pará state.
Sixteen of the dead were decapitated and the remainder suffocated after part of the prison was set on fire, officials said at a news conference.
Two prison officers who were taken hostage have since been freed.
The violence began at about 7am, local time on Monday, and ended at around noon, officials said.
Members of the Comando Classe A [CCA] gang set fire to a cell where rival gang members from Comando Vermelho [Red Command] were kept, the Pará state government said in a statement.
State prisons chief Jarbas Vasconcelos said the fire had spread rapidly with inmates held in old container units that had been adapted for the prison while another building is under construction.
The fire prevented police forces from entering the building for several hours, he told a news conference.
Two prison staff members were held hostage, but eventually released.
“It was a targeted attack. The aim was to show that it was a settling of accounts between the two groups, not a protest or rebellion against the prison system,” Vasconcelos said.
Para state prison authorities said 16 of the victims were decapitated while others suffocated after the prison buildings were set on fire.
The count of victims could rise when authorities have searched all areas involved, state prisons chief Jarbas Vasconcelos said at a news conference.
Authorities have not found any firearms following the riot, only makeshift knives.
Prison authorities said 46 inmates will be transferred to other prisons, 10 of which will go to stricter federal facilities.
Dead inmates are removed after deadly fight between rival gangs at the Altamira prison erupted around 7am Monday morning. The resulting violence left at least one of the prison’s buildings on fire, killing 36 by asphyxia, while 16 of the victims were decapitated
Family members wait outside after a riot erupted when a group of prisoners reportedly tried to take over another part of the prison complex in Para, Brazil
Many Brazilian prisons are underfunded. – 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.
The country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, was elected on the promise of curbing widespread violence in Brazil, including in the country’s often overcrowded, out-of-control prisons.
A July 2019 report from the National Justice Council filed by a local judge in charge of the facility, shows that the prison had 343 detainees for a maximum capacity of 163.
Yet Vasconcelos said the situation did not meet the official requirements to be considered overcrowded. “It is not a unit that has a prison overcrowding, we consider overcrowding when it exceeds 210%,” Vasconcelos said during the press conference.
The judge who filed the report described the overall state of the prison in the city of Altamira as “terrible.”
In many of Brazil’s prisons, badly outnumbered guards struggle to retain power over an ever-growing population of inmates who are able to run criminal activities from behind bars.
Para state authorities spent the afternoon in Altamira, drafting a security plan to avoid possible retaliations in the region. Police forces from the nearby municipality of Santerem were sent as reinforcement in the coming weeks.
Prison authorities said they had not received any prior intelligence reports of an upcoming attack.
The prison is run directly by the state, not a third-party private operator as in the Manaus prisons where the riots took place in May.
Last year, inmates had already set fire to another wing inside the same prison unit, according to the state prosecutors’ office.
The Altamira prison is located in the state of Para, in Brazil
The structure of the cell reportedly, allowed the fire to spread quickly, resulting in the death by asphyxiation of most of the inmates who died on Monday.
Officials said that the two prison officers taken hostage were soon released, because the goal of the attack was to strike at the rival gang – rather than at the prison guards.
There had been no prior warning or signs of an impending attack on this scale, the statement said.
Video reported to be from the prison carried by Brazilian media showed smoke billowing from at least one prison building, while another clip appeared to show inmates walking around on the rooftops.
The prison in Altamira where Monday’s violence broke out has a capacity of 200, but was occupied by 309 prisoners. Officials denied it was overcrowded.
The Ministry of Justice said that ringleaders of the violence will be transferred to more secure units in federal jails.