By Sean Jackson
On Monday, July 29th, news reports revealed that fifty-seven prisoners were killed in a prison riot at the Altamira Regional Recovery Center in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The state prison authority said the riots started directly after a fight erupted between two rival gangs within the prison.
The two gangs involved, a Rio de Janeiro based gang known as Comando Vermelho, or Red Command, and a local Pará criminal group Comando Classe A, or First Command, got into a confrontation at approximately 7 a.m., later escalating into a full blown riot with members of Comando Classe A set fire to a pavilion where the Comando Vermelho were located.
State Prison Chief Jarbas Vasconcelos indicated that the attacks were entirely attributed to gang retribution, saying, “It was a targeted attack. The aim was to show that it was a settling of accounts between the two groups, not a protest or rebellion against the prison system.”
Of the fifty-seven reported killed, state prison authorities state that sixteen of the individuals were decapitated. Video was released showing prisoners playing soccer with the severed heads of gang rivals during the aftermath of the riots. Authorities indicated that they found makeshift knives on the scene after the riots, but found no indication of firearms.
After authorities regained control over the prison, they said that forty-six inmates will be transferred to help mitigate the threat of further retaliatory attacks – ten will be transferred to more secure federal facilities.
In a report from the National Justice Council from July 2019, a local judge outlined that the prison held 343 detainees, although the location is only intended to house a maximum of 163 inmates.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s main campaign message when he was elected was to help curb the widespread violence in Brazil, vowing to “stuff prison cells with criminals”. Experts say that issues with the approach comes from a lack of resources provided to the now overpopulated prison system under Bolsonaro’s administration.
Bruno Paes Manso, a researcher at the University of Sao Paulo’s Violence Studies Center stated in an interview with The Washington Post, “By insisting on high incarceration in overcrowded prisons, Bolsonaro wants to increase the dose of the poison that is killing us.”