Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil jail riots: Amazonas governor asks for help

Relatives wait for information following a riot that ended with at least four prisoners killed inside Desembargador Raimundo Vidal Pessoa Public Jail, on January 8, 2017, in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Relatives of prisoners have been waiting for information at the prison gates after the latest riot

The governor of Amazonas, the state in northern Brazil where at least 64 inmates have been killed in prison riots since 1 January, has asked the federal government for help.

Governor Jose Melo said Amazonas police were "at their physical and psychological limit" and federal troops should be sent as reinforcements.

State police struggled to contain the violence as rival gangs clashed.

Many jails in Brazil are overcrowded and underfunded.

Last week, Gov Melo asked the federal government for electronic tags, body scanners and devices to block mobile phone signals within the state's prisons.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Governor Melo said local forces needed to be reinforced with federal officers

But following Sunday's deadly clash in a prison in the city of Manaus, Governor Melo said he needed federal forces.

He said that police in Amazonas had worked flat out not just to secure the prisons where the riots had taken place, but also to try to capture scores of inmates who had escaped during the riots.

Brazil prison violence

Image copyright AFP

Since the start of the year:

  • 56 inmates were killed at the Anisio Jobim prison in Manaus in clashes between rival gangs on 1 January
  • During the riot, 112 prisoners escaped from Anisio Jobim jail
  • 72 inmates escaped from neighbouring Antonio Trindade jail on 1 January
  • Four prisoners were killed in gang warfare in the Puraquequara Penitentiary Unit in Manaus on 2 January
  • Four inmates were killed in a riot in Raimundo Vidal Pessoa jail in Manaus on 8 January

The rioting also spread to neighbouring Roraima state, where 33 prisoners were killed in the Monte Cristo rural penitentiary on 6 January.

Gang warfare

Officials say the spike in violence is due to the breakdown of a truce between two of Brazil's most powerful criminal gangs, First Capital Command (PCC) and Red Command (CV).

The PCC has its power base in the city of Sao Paulo, while Red Command is based in Rio de Janeiro - although the two gangs' influence extends much further.

For years, members of these gangs have been transferred to prisons in northern states in an attempt to break up their gang ties.

But these remote prisons are often poorly equipped and badly staffed making it hard for officers to contain a riot once it has started.

Raimundo Vidal Pessoa jail, where the latest riot happened, had been closed in October but was re-opened to house prisoners moved from the Anisio Jobim prison after a deadly riot there had left 56 dead.

Gov Melo said the problem was at a national level and urged the federal government to help devise a restructuring of the prison system.

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