Brazil prison break attempt leaves 23 dead

BELEM – At least 23 people have been killed in Brazil, when prisoners attempted to escape from a correctional facility, local authorities said.

Law enforcement agencies said one prison guard and 22 prisoners were killed in the military-style firefight in the city of Belem, located on the edge of the Amazon River Delta, in the state of Para.

A group of armed men attempted to storm the Santa Izabel Penitentiary Complex to help free the prisoners inside, who were also armed.

Authorities said that after the explosion, prison guards fought back in “an intense exchange of gunfire.” The situation was not under control until more police reinforcements arrived. At the conclusion of the incident, police were able to recover two rifles and five handguns at the scene.

Five guards were injured, including one seriously. A headcount was underway to establish whether anyone escaped, while a police SWAT team was reinforcing security.

The Santa Izabel Penitentiary Complex houses 659 inmates, despite having a capacity of 432. Human Rights organizations have denounced the deficient sanitary conditions and overcrowding at the prison.

Brazil is one of the world’s deadliest countries, with around 60,000 homicides a year.

Riots, escape attempts, gang violence and disputes over drug trafficking are commonplace problems in the South American country’s prisons. The South American nation holds the worlds fourth largest prison population.

In 2016, there were 726,712 inmates and capacity for only 368,000 nationwide, according to recent official statistics.

Powerful drug gangs routinely take their turf wars from the streets of Rio de Janeiro and other big cities into penitentiary facilities.

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In one of the bloodiest episodes, 56 people were killed in an uprising in a prison in the city of Manaus in Brazil’s Amazon in 2017.

In January, fighting between gangs at a prison in northeastern Ceara state left 10 dead. That bloodshed took place in the Itapaje Public Prison, about 125 kilometers from the state capital, Fortaleza.