- A prison riot between rival gangs in Brazil left at least 57 inmates dead. Of those killed, 16 were decapitated and the rest died from smoke inhalation from a fire that was started.
- Gang violence is common in Brazilian prisons, which kingpins often use as command centers to run their criminal operations.
- Inmate populations have grown dramatically in the last decade, creating issues with overcrowding and lack of funding, and leaving Brazil with the third-largest prison population in the world.
- Experts expect the violence to get worse as inmate populations rise, and as President Jair Bolsonaro promises to put more people in jail.
A prison riot that broke out in the state of Pará, Brazil Monday has left 57 people dead.
The riot reportedly started when members of one gang at the Altamira prison invaded the prison block that another rival gang occupied. Gang members then started a fire, which spread rapidly and prevented police from entering the building for several hours.
Once the riot was stopped and the damages were assessed, authorities reported that 16 people had died from decapitation, while the rest had died from smoke inhalation from the fire.
Two prison guards were also held hostage during the riot, but they were later released unharmed.
“It was a targeted attack,” State prisons chief Jarbas Vasconcelos said in a statement. “The aim was to show that it was a settling of accounts between the two groups, not a protest or rebellion against the prison system.”
Vasconcelos statement is not wrong, but the situation is more nuanced than his description may imply.
At the surface level, it is true that the riot was caused by rival gangs. Over the last few years, Brazil’s largest gangs have expanded and spread across the country as they develop lucrative drug routes and form alliances with smaller gangs.
That has also lead to more violence between gangs. Those clashes do not stop when gang members or even the drug kingpins are put in jail. In fact, many of the gangs consider prisons to be a sort of command center or home base.
Brazil’s government has long moved gang leaders to prisons that are far away from their homes with the hope that it will weaken their criminal networks.
However, that policy seems to have completely backfired because it has basically just allowed the gangs to create a broader national reach.
Once in jail, gang leaders use smuggled cell phones to continue to run their criminal organizations, sometimes across multiple states.
These gang members are incredibly powerful in Brazilian prisons, so much so that other inmates are often forced to join the gangs to survive.
Overcrowding & Underfunding
While it is true that the rivalries between these gangs prompted Monday’s riot, that kind of mass violence is not necessarily inevitable.
The violence among prison inmates is exacerbated by more structural issues, like overcrowding and lack of funding. Brazil’s prison population has risen in recent years, but there has not been funding or investment to match that rise.
According to the Washington Post, Brazil’s inmate population has gone from about 500,000 to 800,000 in the last 10 years alone, making it the third-largest inmate population in the world after the U.S. and China.
Just this month, Brazil’s National Justice Council released a report that found the Altamira prison was built for 163 detainees but holds 343. The report also described the conditions inside the prison as “terrible.”
At a press conference, Vasconcelos said Altamira is not considered overcrowded. “It is not a unit that has a prison overcrowding, we consider overcrowding when it exceeds 210 percent,” he said.
However, some of the Brazilian facilities are reportedly so overcrowded that inmates are forced to sleep standing up and their hands are tied to bars so they stay upright. The lack of funding also means that prisons are short-staffed.
Experts have said that the combination of overcrowding and lack of funding has a direct connection to increased gang violence in the prisons.
“There are almost twice as many prisoners as there is prison space,” Bruno Paes Manso, a researcher at the University of Sao Paulo’s Violence Studies Center told the Washington Post. “The result is that this insecurity strengthens gang command and prison leadership, which has grown in Brazil in the last 10 years.”
Experts also believe this kind of violence will not only continue but also get worse, which is something that is already happening.
The Altamira riot is not the only instance of prison violence that has caused mass fatalities in the last few months. In May, 55 people were killed in riots that broke out in four separate prisons all in the state of Amazonas. Again, those riots stemmed from power struggles between gangs.
In early 2017, more than 120 inmates died when rival gangs fought over control of drug-trafficking routes. That violence lasted several weeks and spanned multiple states.
Brazil’s troubling prison system begs the question: what are politicians and the government doing?
In many ways, the answer is just making it worse. President Jair Bolsonaro was elected last year on the promise that he would crack down on crime, even saying that he planned to “stuff prison cells with criminals.”
However, Paes Manso believes this will only make things worse.
“By insisting on high incarceration in overcrowded prisons, Bolsonaro wants to increase the dose of the poison that is killing us,” he said.
Overcrowding is also complicated by the fact that many of Brazil’s prisons are run at the state level. While Bolsonaro’s administration has called for states to build more prisons, the lack of funding makes that unlikely.
Even the prisons that have been built recently are not enough. According to the Washington Post, space for over 8,650 inmates has been built since 2018, but the number of new inmates grew by more than 17,800 during the same time.
Other’s have also proposed sending gang kingpins to federal prisons, but experts have argued that the violence is a product of an inherently flawed system.
“Nationwide, 40 percent of people in detention are awaiting trial,” Maria Laura Canineu, the director of the Brazil office of Human Rights Watch told the Washington Post. “Most inmates are black young men with low levels of education who depend on understaffed public defenders’ offices for their legal defense.”
Canineu also added that she too anticipates that prison gangs will get stronger as inmate populations grow in already overcrowded prisons.
There is also a general lack of political will to fix that broken system. Some politicians, like Bolsonaro, seem to want to increase the inmate population.
Some analysts believe that as the violence gets more common, the people of Brazil, who are already used to prison violence, will become more apathetic.
“Unfortunately, most Brazilians will shrug off this latest outbreak of violence, numb as they are to the ritual of bloodletting in the country’s prisons,” Robert Muggah, the research director at the Rio de Janeiro-based think tank Igarapé Institute told the New York Times
Others even seemed to celebrate the violence. Gilson Cardoso Fahur, a congressman from Parana state who was recently elected on the promise to curb violent crime, responded to Monday’s riot, seemingly cheering them on.
“In these fights between criminal factions, I root for the machete,” he said. “The truth is no one is going to miss them. They won’t commit crimes again.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CBS News)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.
Epic Games Sued
A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.
The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years.
If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case.
Epic Games Responds
“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.”
Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.
The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children.
“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.”