Another prison riot claims 33 lives in Brazil. Can officials stop the violence?

The violence appeared to be part of an ongoing dispute between two gangs. It has reached crisis proportions.

Riot police officers check inmates after clashing between rival criminal factions at a prison in Boa Vista, Brazil, October 17, 2016.

At least 33 inmates were killed in a prison riot in Brazil on Friday, officials said, possibly in retaliation after members of a powerful drug gang were targeted in the worst prison massacre in decades that left 56 people dead earlier this week.

State officials said the riot in Monte Cristo, Roraima state's largest penitentiary, was brought under control by elite police forces. Violence between rival drug gangs in the prison had ended with 10 dead in October.

At least 93 prisoners have been killed in three separate prison riots this week in Brazil, sparking fears that months of violence between drug gangs who control many of the country's prisons was spiraling out of control. 

It's also becoming a flashpoint for the government of President Michel Temer, whose administration is already struggling with an economic crisis and mounting corruption allegations. Authorities of the state of Roraima, on the border with Venezuela, said they requested help from Brazil's federal government more than once to deal with its prison crisis, but no support was sent. 

"This is a national crisis," Uziel Castro, security secretary of the state where the latest massacre happened, told the Associated Press. 

It wasn't immediately clear whether there was a connection to the gruesome rioting earlier this week in the neighboring state of Amazonas, which officials blamed on a gang war between the First Command and Family of the North, which fight over control of prisons and drug routes in northern Brazil along the borders of Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and the Guianas. 

As The Christian Science Monitor wrote earlier this week, the incidents shine a light on a long-term expansion of incarceration that rivals that of the United States:

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. Recent austerity measures have further undercut prison authorities’ efforts.

“Every year 500 inmates die in Brazilian prisons,” former security secretary Jose Vicente da Silva told the Associated Press. “With the current economic crisis and the budget cuts, the gangs get even bolder."

...[I]n the past decade and a half, the incarceration rate has grown 10 times faster than its population growth, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, mostly due to arrests for drug possession and a pre-trial system that eschews electronic monitoring, bail, and other alternatives to detention.

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

Just as details about the latest disturbance were emerging, Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes announced measures to curb the violence.

Mr. Moraes told the AP federal police would be more integrated in state capitals and that special task forces would be created to more quickly process criminal charges, a measure aimed at reducing overcrowding. Moraes offered no deadlines for the initiatives but said they would "be realistic" given the recession in Latin America's largest economy.

"The situation isn't out of control," said Mr. Moraes. "It's (just) another difficult situation."

The rioting Sunday and Monday in Amazonas included the country's worst prison massacre since 1992. A total of 184 inmates escaped from Amazonas prisons in the disturbances. As of Thursday afternoon, only 65 had been recaptured.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Another prison riot claims 33 lives in Brazil. Can officials stop the violence?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today