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A brutal clash between warring gangs in a Brazilian prison left at least 52 prisoners dead, 16 of them decapitated.
Brazilian authorities say the riot broke out at 7 a.m. local time Monday at the Altamira Regional Recovery Center in the state of Para. The massacre began with gang members of one prison block invading the prison block of a rival gang, according to the BBC. The resulting violence left at least one of the prison’s buildings on fire, killing 36 by asphyxia. And while no prison guards were among the victims, two were taken hostage by prisoners and were eventually released.
The prison was way over capacity, according to local outlet Rede Liberal. Though it was built to hold just 200 inmates at a time, there were 311 at the time of Monday’s riot.
It reportedly took authorities five hours to get the chaos under control.
The massacre marks the second largest prison riot in Brazil over the last two months and the latest bout of violence in Brazil’s troubled prison system. In May, a three-day riot also incited by rival gang violence across four prisons in Manaus left 55 people dead.
Brazil has long had issues with managing its growing prison population. The South American nation has the third-largest prison population in the world, with over 725,000 people behind bars. Only China and the U.S. surpass that. In 2015, a report from the Human Rights Watch called the condition of Brazil’s prison system a “human rights disaster.”
Overcrowding, a common issue with many of Brazil’s prisons, and gang warfare have led to repeated outbreaks of violence all over the country. In 2017 alone, at least 140 prisoners were killed in mass riots in a three-week span. Decapitations are not uncommon in these violent prison clashes.
Brazil's new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, elected partly for his tough-on-crime stance, has said in the past that he wants to address the issue by building more prisons and tightening security at the facilities. Addressing the issue may prove to be a challenge as prisons in the South American country are controlled by the states, not nationally.
Cover: Morgue workers unload the body of an inmate, a victim of prison riots in May, in Manaus, Brazil, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)