At least 33 dead in prison riot in Brazil, state media says

Local government officials in Brazil's Roraima state said at least 33 inmates were killed, some of them decapitated, in a prison riot led by a drug gang.

Brazil's prisons house more than 600,000 people - about 61 percent more than its facilities can hold, according to Human Rights Watch - making it harder for authorities to maintain control.

Past year there were 379 violent deaths, including murders and suicides, in Brazilian prisons, or around one death per day.

A police statement said officers, including a heavily armed military-like riot squad, had been deployed to the prison.

"This is a national crisis", said Uziel Castro, security secretary of Roraima, where the latest massacre happened.

Alexandre Moraes, the Brazilian justice minister, disputes the theory that it was gang retribution, however. He offered no deadlines for the initiatives but said they would "be realistic" given the recession in Latin America's largest economy.

"Authorities in northern Brazil are saying the situation is now under control and that no body escaped in this occasion", Al Jazeera's Daniel Schweimler, reporting from the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires, said. "It's (just) another hard situation". According to the prison's governor, Brazilian special forces were needed to restore order inside the prison which housed 1,400 inmates, double its capacity.

The rioting Sunday and Monday in Amazonas included the country's worst prison massacre since 1992, with half of the 56 slain at one institution beheaded and several others also dismembered. By Thursday afternoon, only 65 had been recaptured. During the 17-hour riot PCC members clashed with members of a rival gang, Family of the North (FDN), a powerful local gang. Camila Dias, a sociologist at the Federal University of ABC in Sao Paulo and expert on Brazil's prison system, told Reuters that even in the relatively wealthy state of Sao Paulo, a single guard oversees 300 to 400 prisoners in some prisons.

  • Rogelio Becker