Massive Jail Break Highlights Ongoing Turmoil in Brazil’s Prisons

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Nearly 90 alleged gang members escaped from a prison in northern Brazil, yet another illustration of how criminal groups have usurped control of the country’s prison system, a problem exacerbated by widespread fighting amongst some of country’s largest criminal syndicates. 

Eighty-eight inmates used a 30-meter long tunnel to escape from Parnamirim prison in the northern state of Rio Grande do Norte on May 25, reported Globo. Nine of the prisoners have been recaptured. Local officials say it is the biggest jail break ever in Rio Grande do Norte.

The second-largest prison break in Rio Grande do Norte occurred this past January, when 56 inmates escaped from Alcaçuz prison amid a brutal riot that left 26 prisoners dead. All of the victims were reportedly members of a local criminal group called the Sindicato do Crime, who were warring with the rival First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC).

At least 100 members of Sindicato do Crime were transferred from Alcaçuz to Parnamirim following that riot, according to Estadão. Prison officials and law enforcement agents told the newspaper that the recently-escaped inmates belong to Sindicato do Crime, but did not say whether they were the same gang members who had been transferred from Alcaçuz in January. 

The Parnamirim facility has a maximum capacity of 436 inmates, but was holding 589 at the time of the escape, according to Globo. 

InSight Crime Analysis

While it is unclear whether the recent escape was connected to the January massacre at Alcaçuz, both instances display just how powerful the country’s gangs have become within the prisons — and how impotent the government is to stop them. Local authorities say the prisoners in Parnamirim have been free to roam their respective units and shared spaces ever since 2015, when inmates led a rebellion and broke the bars off their cells. 

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This complete lack of control over the prison system is not limited to Rio Grande do Norte. Almost 100 inmates died during during the first days of 2017 in a series of prison riots in various parts of Brazil related in part to a battle between the country’s two largest criminal syndicates, the PCC and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV).

The PCC and CV were born in the prisons. Their fight has spread to various parts of the country, and the recent jail break would suggests that smaller criminal groups are now capable of wielding a high level of control within the prisons as well.  

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