Yet another deadly prison riot is reported from Brazil. This time, rival gangs clashed for control of a pavilion at Alcaçuz State Penitentiary, in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. The riot began early Jan. 14; police surrounded the prison that night, but waited until noon the next day to enter due to reports that rebel inmates had armed themselves. At press time, the state’s military police and elite Special Operations Batallion are trying to negotiate the surrender of the inmates, according to Brazilian news blog Plus55. The state government has confirmed at least 10 deaths, but the number is expected to rise—Reuters already puts it as high as 30. Some of the victims are said to have been decapitated.
Authorities say the battle pitted adherents of Brazil's reigning narco-cartel, the First Capital Command (PCC) against a local outfit with the refreshingly honest name of the Crime Union. This is part of a wider ongoing war between the São Paulo-based PCC, and its Rio de Janeiro-based rival, the Comando Vermelho or Red Command. The Comando Vermelho is apparently seeking alliances with local networks outside the PCC's control in a bid to undercut its growing hegemony over Brazil's lucrative narco trade. The Alcaçuz rebellion is the fourth prison riot in Brazil since the start of the year. The total number of Brazilian prisoners slain in gang warfare so far in 2017 is put by Reuters at a startling 140.
Extreme overcrowding in the prisons is obviously escalating tensions. Alcaçuz, Rio Grande do Norte 's largest prison, was built to house 620 inmates. Now, there are 1,083 housed there. Plus55 writes that Brazil's prison system is "on the brink of total collapse."