The death toll in the latest prison riot in a jail in northwest Brazil rose to at least 26 Monday after a fight broke out between rival gangs Saturday in the middle of a national prison management crisis and growing fears over the consequences of the country's overcrowded prisons.
At least three prisoners were decapitated inside the Alcazuz prison, in the city of Natal, the largest in the state of Rio Grande do Norte. The center officially has capacity for 620 inmates, but currently holds 1,100.
Initial reports said 10 people were found dead inside the prison, but official figures changed the death toll after authorities controlled the riot and began investigating the damage. The violence broke when members of a criminal organization left their section and started a fight with other gangs.
“We can't say the precise final number of victims," announced Brazil's Public Security Secretariat. "We will verify the extent of the damage."
According to EFE news agency, prison authorities said on Saturday they were focused on preventing an escape by prisoners, who were still armed after the riot and had cut the lights inside the prison.
Justice Secretary Wallber Virgolino told Brazil's Globo newspaper that the situation was critical, but military forces had taken control of the situation after managing to enter the prison's pavilions at dawn on Sunday.
Virgolino told reporters that police had entered the prison, but there were areas that were still under control of the gangs, which led to authorities blocking exits and firemen putting up barricades.
The president of the Supreme Court of Brazil, Carmen Lucia Antunes, met on Thursday with the heads of 25 of the 27 regional courts and demanded that they present a list of available judges and lawyers. Antunes gave them 90 days to review and resolve prisoners’ cases, especially those that have been stalled for years.
Human rights organizations have warned that prisoners continue to be behind bars without any sentence, or have fulfilled their time and were not released. More than 622,000 people are currently incarcerated in the country, about 67 percent more than the maximum limit, according to Brazil's Ministry of Justice.
So far, in the first two weeks of 2017, 125 people have been killed in prison riots in Brazil.