Brazil: More than 120 killings in 16 days signals national prison crisis

Brazil’s chaotic prison system is in crisis with more than 120 inmate deaths reported since 1 January, Amnesty International said today after the confirmation of a further 26 killings inside Alcaçuz prison, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte.

The majority of the prisoners killed in the latest disturbances were beheaded. There are also reports that some of the victims were quartered and others burned. Some areas of the prison were destroyed during the riot, which lasted for over fourteen hours.

Renata Neder, Human Rights Advisor at Amnesty International Brazil, said:

"It is appalling that so many people have been killed in such a short amount of time while in government custody. The crisis that started with the killings in Amazonas State prison on 1st January is worsening and spreading throughout the country.

“The authorities are playing a dangerous game in underestimating the depth of the emergency in the prison system; and are therefore failing to prevent further gruesome killings.”

More than 8,000 people are imprisoned in Rio Grande do Norte state, though its prison system has capacity for just 3,500. In March 2015, the government declared a "state of calamity" in its prison system due to the number of riots that had taken place.

The overcrowding and poor facilities of Brazilian prisons have been widely denounced before the National Justice Council, the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in a 2016 report.

Amnesty International is calling on authorities to ensure a prompt, thorough and independent investigation, by civilian authorities, into the killings. All those suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice in fair trials.

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