A fresh spate of violence in a Brazilian jail left at least four people dead early Sunday, including three decapitated, underlining the crisis in the prison system that has claimed the lives of nearly 100 inmates in the past week alone as a bloody gang war surges.
The riot at the Desembargador Raimundo Vidal Pessoa penitentiary in the Amazonian city of Manaus broke out around 1:00 a.m. local time and was contained by 6:00 a.m., according to Brazil’s Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.
The facility had shut down in October due to poor conditions but reopened last week in an emergency measure to relocate about 300 inmates from three other Manaus jails in an effort to diffuse bubbling gang feuds. According to authorities, the motives behind the latest violence remain unclear, and it is not known if a particular gang faction set off the riot.
The outbreak comes just one week after a grisly riot between warring gangs at another Manaus prison, the largest in the Amazon region, killed 56 inmates, including several that were beheaded and tossed outside the walls of the facility. The marathon riot was the most deadly incident of prison violence in Brazil in more than two decades.
Other incidents in neighboring prisons have brought the total fatalities in Manaus penitentiaries to at least 64 in the past week.
Meanwhile, another violent rebellion at a jail in the neighboring state of Roraima Friday killed at least 33 people, including many who were beheaded and butchered.
Rising tensions between rival criminal gangs in Brazil’s prisons — plagued by chronic overcrowding — have sparked fears of further violence.
Sharp hostilities between the powerful Sao Paulo-based First Capital Command gang, known by its Portuguese acronym PCC, and the local Manaus organized crime syndicate the North Family sparked the prison battle last Sunday that killed 56. A truce between the PCC and the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command or CV, the country’s two largest drug syndicates, unraveled last year, raising the spectre of further violence.
Brazil’s incarcerated population doubled in the past decade, increasing to some 622,000 prisoners at the end of 2014. Harsh sentences for drug-related crimes and a chronically slow judicial system are credited for contributed to the spike in inmate numbers. The majority of prisoners in the country are Black men, according to the Ministry of Justice.
Although the war on drugs has contributed to the ballooning of Brazil’s prison population, many officials have argued for tougher policies to fight crime and drug trafficking in response to the latest crisis. The government of unelected President Michel Temer announced Thursday plans to open more prisons and update the penitentiary system as part of a new security initiative.
Human rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the inhumane living conditions in Brazilian correctional facilities, which play an instrumental role in sparking violent clashes.
A recent report found that at least one inmate was killed in Brazil's prisons every single day in 2016.