Brazil reels after 56 inmates killed in jail riot
MANAUS: Brazil’s justice minister on Tuesday proposed an overhaul of the penal system to tackle chronic prison overcrowding, a day after 56 inmates were massacred in the deadliest riot in two decades.
The minister, Alexandre de Moraes, said Brazil needed to improve conditions in jails, which are home to an estimated 600 000 inmates, after visiting the prison in the jungle city of Manaus where violence erupted between rival drug gangs.
In an incident that shocked even Brazilians inured to regular outbreaks of prison violence, machete-wielding gangs decapitated inmates on Monday and threw their bodies over a wall of the penitentiary, which houses more than three times its capacity.
Hundreds of anguished relatives, many of them hugging each other and sobbing uncontrollably, gathered outside the morgue in Manaus, waiting to discover if their loved ones were alive.
A morgue employee emerged from time to time to read from a list of those confirmed dead.
“I never imagined something like this could happen,” cried Diana after learning that her son, Ronei Pinheiro, had been killed. “Please help me bury my son.” Officials were forced to rent a refrigerated truck to store bodies, while medical examiners tried to identify the remains.
A war for control of the lucrative drug trade fuelled the latest gang violence, raising concerns that Monday’s massacre could unleash a wave of reprisals.
A total of 223 inmates from other prisons in Amazonas state were relocated to an abandoned jail in Manaus to protect them from rival gangs following the riot.
Moraes said the solution to Brazil’s chronic prison violence was not just to keep opening new prisons.
“We need to make sure those who deserve to be in jail stay there and those who committed minor crimes get out,” Moraes told reporters after visiting the Anisio Jobim penitentiary. “If not, we are only providing organised-crime groups with new soldiers.”
Brazil’s prison system is among the worst in the world, according to human rights groups.
The groups have described medieval conditions with food scarce and cells so packed that prisoners have no space to lie down.
Brazil’s federal government will provide 1.2 billion reais (about R5bn) to states by June to beef up security and buy more X-ray machines to prevent weapons from entering prisons, Moraes said.
The prison system in Amazonas state is run by two private companies that won a 27-year public contract.
The riot was the deadliest since a 1992 prison massacre at the Carandiru prison in São Paulo state in which 111 inmates were killed. – Reuters