Bloodshed in the Amazon: Riot Rattles Prison in Northern Brazil

Jason Schwartz ’17, Staff Writer 

Five weeks ago, a grisly riot killed 56 prisoners in the Anísio Jobim prison in Manaus, a city amid the Amazon rainforest in Northern Brazil.  The riot was reported to last around 17 hours, and resulted in countless fresh limbs and decapitated heads stacked by the entrance of the Anísio Jobim prison, known as Compaj to locals.  This riot was the country’s bloodiest prison in the last 25 years.  

Brazil’s prison system has serious issues, including prisoner overpopulation and powerful gangs. In recent years, the number of prisoners has skyrocketed. According to BBC News, Brazil had 232,755 people imprisoned in 2000.  In 2014, that number tripled to 622,202, which means Brazil has the 4th highest number of prisoners in the world, only behind the United States, China, and Russia.  As Brazil’s 1,424 detention facilities are built to hold 372,000 prisoners, the nation is suffering from overflowing prisons.  This phenomena is true because most of the people behind bars in Brazil’s prisons are in there for the pettiest crimes or are awaiting a trial date.  Brazil’s most notorious criminals, who are often members of gangs, also reside in the nation’s prisons.  There have been many reports of these gangs taking control of prisons, making them their headquarters.

As a prime example of Brazil’s prison problem, the riot at Compaq was said to be caused by a clash among gangs.  According to The Economist, the Family of the North (FDN), an infamous gang originating from the Amazon region of Brazil, had organized the Compaj riot.  The FDN was said to have controlled much of Compaj, which holds around 3,000 prisoners– more than triple its capacity.  The FDN’s goal was to eliminate as many members as possible of the First Command of the Capital (PCC), a rival gang originating from southeastern Brazil.  The FDN murdered 56 of them.  The riot at Compaj shows the dominant presence of gangs in Brazil and within Brazil’s prison system.  But has the Brazilian government done anything about it?

To answer the preceding question, the Brazilian authority has not done much with the country’s prison system.  In fact, Brazil’s twenty-six states determine the size and quality of their jails. However, Brazilian federal officials have begun to realize the problem.  At the end of 2016, the federal government vowed to spend $370,000,000 to build and revamp prisons nationwide.  Nevertheless, Brazil’s federal government is extremely short of money, and it will be a challenge for them to find the capital.  The federal government can not even pay for its prison guards to monitor the country’s prisons, let alone pay for its far-fetched projects.  The government will be unable to get a larger number of prison guards and to train them adequately without losing money.  What will this mean for the future of Brazil?  Brazil will continue to experience these heinous riots in prisons unless government officials fund more of the government’s money into the prison effort and shift their views from pro-prison outlook to anti-prison outlook to prevent overcrowding.


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