Bishop offers prayers after Brazil prison riot leaves 56 dead

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, Jan 4, 2017–A local bishop called for prayer and prison reform efforts after a 17-hour prison uprising in the Amazon city of Manaus, Brazil, left at least 56 dead.

The incident is “a very sad and apprehensive situation,” said Auxiliary Bishop of Manaus, José Alburquerque de Aráujo. He asked all the people of the country to unite in prayer.

Late in the day on January 1, a riot broke out in the Anísio Jobim Prison Complex. According to authorities, the riot was caused by an internal dispute between criminal gangs inside the prison: the local group, Family of the North (FDN), massacred members of the First Command of the Capital (PCC), which is based in the south-east region of the country.

International drug trafficking is a major problem in the northern area of Brazil, where Manaus is located. Criminal gangs exert significant influence from inside prisons in the region.

Before the riot, some prisoners escaped from Manaus and another prison in the area, but official numbers have not been disclosed. During the uprising, 12 prison guards were also taken as hostages, but they were released unharmed after negotiations with the authorities.

It was the second deadliest prison riot in Brazil, following the 1992 riot in Carandiru, São Paulo state, where 111 prisoners died.

Among the problems plaguing the Brazilian prison system is overcrowding. The Anísio Jobim Prison Complex has the capacity to house 454 inmates, but is currently flooded with 1224 prisoners, according to the BBC.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Auxiliary Bishop Albuquerque de Araújo said that “the voice of the Church in Manaus is one of great lament and profound sadness; we are all united in prayer: priests, deacons, pastoral workers, we bishops and those serving in prison ministry.”

“This is a very sad situation, which presents a great challenge to us, to address the conditions in our prisons with serenity and much justice, respecting human rights and trying to make peace come about in our prisons, something which is not happening in Manaus or in our country,” he said. (CNA)