Authorities are investigating after up to 25 inmates were killed during a riot at Monte Cristo Agricultural Prison in northern Brazil. Reports of seven inmates being beheaded and six burnt to death in the incident, which took place during visitation hours at Roraima state’s largest jail on Sunday. Around 100 visitors were held captive before special operations police took control.
At 3pm, prisoners from wing 14 broke the locks and invaded wing 12 in a vicious, gang-related attack. According to the wife of a prisoner who was visiting at the time the fight started, the men were armed with an assortment of knives and pieces of wood. “Many of them are wounded. When it happened, the families started running. There were many children inside.”
The prisoners demanded the presence of a judge at the prison, but were instead met on Sunday evening by around 80 special operations police. This led to the release of the hostages at around 8pm. Secretary of Justice Uziel Castro issued a statement after the authorities took back control, stating: “All of the hostages have been released. They had 50 hostages in each ward. In total, that’s 100. In one of the wings there was no forced entry, the prisoners released the hostages. There was only an issue in the senior wing, but after negotiations they ended up releasing them. More than 90% [of the hostages] were women.”
The road that leads to the prison was closed by the police throughout the evening whilst electricity and water were cut off to the prisoners during the night to regain control of the situation. Teams from the Institute of Legal Medicine were also called to the prison to manage the removal of the bodies.
The riot has follow continued criticisms of overcrowding and unrest in Brazilian prisons. According to data released in April this year, the Monte Cristo Agricultural Prison has the largest number of prisoners in the state and is subsequently the most overpopulated. In January 2015 it housed 1,020 prisoners which then increased to 1,400 by March 2016 – an amount almost double the capacity of the prison of only 740. Figures from the National Survey of Penitentiary Information detail a 167% increase in the country’s prison population in the last 14 years. During this time, the figure increased by nearly 400,000 to reach the current total of over 620,000 – a number that constitutes the fourth largest prison population in the world.