P4 Chacina Pau DArco Lunae Parracho ReutersAt least 57 prisoners were killed by other inmates during clashes between organized crime groups in the Altamira prison in the state of Para, Brazil on Monday July 29 (2019). Sixteen of the victims were decapitated, according to prison officials. The fight erupted around 7am between the Rio-based “Comando Vermelho” and a local criminal group known as “Comando Classe A”.

Conditions at this prison have been described as “terrible” in an official report. The National Justice Council said that Altamira jail in contained more than double the number of inmates it was built for. It also said that there were not enough guards to guarantee inmates’ safety. Deadly fights are not uncommon in Brazil, which has the world’s third-largest prison population.

The violence started when members of a criminal gang housed in Block A of the jail, invaded an annex where members of a rival gang were locked up. Sixteen inmates were decapitated in the fight which followed. Many more died from smoke asphyxiation after the fighting prisoners set a cell on fire. Video taken from outside the prison showed smoke billowing from the building and inmates walking around on rooftops. The inmates also took two prison officers hostage but released them after negotiations with civil and military police. The fighting lasted for about five hours.

The justice ministry, Sergio Moro, said that ringleaders of the violence would be transferred to more secure units in federal jails. It said 46 of those who took part in the violence would be moved to other states and a further 36 would be transferred to other prisons within Pará. Sergio Moro tweeted that in his opinion, those responsible “should be held forever in federal prisons”.

2 cemiterio de vitimas da chacina de pau darco no paraMeanwhile, relatives of inmates held at Altamira have been waiting outside the prison for news of their loved ones. “We only want to know if our relatives are alive,” the mother of one prisoner told daily newspaper “O Globo” of Rio. She said the prison authorities were being “inhumane” by not telling relatives who had died. “It is very sad to not have news of one’s child. In my head, I keep going through all the possibilities of what may have happened to him. I am not prepared for what may come,” she said.

The prison authorities said they had not been able to access all the cells yet due to the heat caused by the fire. This prision run directly by the state, not a third-party private operator as in the Manaus prisons where the riots took place in May. Last year, inmates had already set fire to another wing inside the same prison unit, according to the state prosecutors office.

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