Brazil Hunts for Scores of Escaped Inmates

170103124525-brazil-prison-riot-2-exlarge-169A riot in an overcrowded prison in northern Brazil has left at least 60 inmates dead, many of them decapitated. The unrest in Manaus, in Amazonas state, started on Sunday after a fight between rival gangs.  More than 130 escaped prisoners in Brazil were on the run Tuesday after breaking out during a bloody prison riot.

As warring drug gangs in two prisons in the Amazonian city of Manaus stabbed, decapitated and dismembered fellow inmates during a 17-hour riot that ended Monday, 184 prisoners escaped. Many of them scrambled away through the dense rain forest surrounding the city on the Amazon river, according to police and government officials.

Only 48 inmates have since been recaptured, including a group that robbed worshipers in an evangelical church shortly after their escape, one official said, adding that all local police have been ordered to cancel their holidays to help with the manhunt.


It was the largest death toll during a Brazilian prison-based gangs battling for control of lucrative Amazon cocaine-smuggling routes clashed on Sunday night in the deadliest riots since the massacre of 111 inmates in São Paulo’s Carandiru prison in 1992.

The Amazonas state government said most of those killed belonged to the powerful São Paulo-based First Capital Command (PCC) drug gang, which has been vying with Manaus’s Northern Family gang for control over Amazonian cities in the north of the country.

Brazil’s Amazon region provides valuable access to the cocaine-producing areas of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, according to Rafael Alcadipani, an academic at Brazil’s Getúlio Vargas Foundation.

  1. Over recent months, battles between the PCC and the Northern Family have been blamed for rising violence in jails across northern Brazil. Since October, more than 100 inmates have died in seven separate riots, mostly in the north, according to the country’s Justice Ministry.
  2. Brazil’s prisons have become lawless no-man’s lands, where incarcerated drug lords control everything from the distribution of medication and food to how cell blocks are organized.
  3. Over the past 30 years, Brazil has adopted policies that boosted incarceration rates, but it hasn’t invested enough in prisons to keep up with the soaring number of inmates.

Current Situation


  • According to the most recent data from Brazil’s Justice Ministry, the country had almost 608,000 inmates as of June 2015, while its prisons were designed to house only about 377,000 people.
  • Manaus’s Anísio Jobim penitentiary complex, where most of this week’s killings took place, holds 1,229 inmates, more than twice its intended capacity of 500 people.
  • Brazil has the world’s fourth-largest inmate population, behind U.S., China and Russia. While those three countries reduced the number of inmates since 2008, Brazil’s prison population has increased by 33% over the same period.
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