Brazil reels af­ter 56 in­mates killed in jail riot

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

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

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