By Stephanie Foden, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A clash between inmates of rival gangs left 13 dead and at least 30 injured on Wednesday evening at Complexo Penitenciário de Pedrinhas in São Luís, capital city of Maranhão state. Riot police arrived at the scene and searched the overcrowded prison finding pistols, homemade bombs and other lethal weapons.
There are conflicting reports as to the actual death toll, but Aluísio Mendes, Secretary of Public Security of Maranhão, said in a press conference that the rebellion began after prisoners refused cell inspections. The wardens discovered that 60 detainees were digging an escape tunnel, and when officials tried to access the cell block, chaos broke out.
Inmates started a fire in the building and barricaded themselves inside. The rival gangs used this as an opportunity to settle scores. Riot police were sent in to seize the situation.
Commission of Human Rights representative Diogo Cabral, who witnessed the turmoil, told The Independent newspaper: “I am very shocked at what happened. If the Choque troops [special elite squad] had been dispatched earlier maybe the barbarism and the death toll could have been avoided.”
Tension also grew outside of the jail, as relatives and onlookers demanded information regarding their loved ones and started to throw stones at the guards, who kept them from entering the prison. Several buses in São Luís were set on fire.
This is not the only uprising Pedrinhas has seen recently. At the beginning of October, the prison was the scene of a confrontation between rival gang members which resulted in the deaths of three prisoners, one of which was decapitated.
Brazil has a long history of unrest in its prison system, known for poor living conditions and human rights violations. The most outstanding example of this is the 1992 Carandiru massacre, in which police stopped a riot inside the former São Paulo prison by killing 111 inmates.
Read more (in Portuguese).
* The Rio Times Daily Updates feature is offered to help keep you up-to-date with important news as it happens.