Internal gang politics have resulted in the death of 55 inmates. The killings take place in the northern state of Amazonas and have resulted in the administration requesting the aid of federal security forces.

Prison in Amazonas (Photo: SEAP Amazonas Social media)

Prison in Amazonas (Photo: SEAP Amazonas Social media)

A series of prison riots in Brazil's north has resulted in the death of 55 inmates. 

Prisoners used sharpened toothbrushes to stab victims to death with the killing occurring over 48 hours starting May 26. Following the riots, prison officials found several victims with signs of asphyxiation. 

The deaths occurred in four prisons throughout Brazil's northern state of Amazonas. Authorities have isolated approximately 200 prisoners following the riots due to them being targets for similar attacks.

The murders were instigated by infighting amongst the criminal faction Família do Norte (Family of the North) following a dispute for control of the gang between the ringleaders José Roberto Barbosa and João Pinto Carioca.

 According to the Secretariat of Public Security for the state, Coronel Lousimar Bonates, the murders started during visiting hours; several of the victims were killed in front of visiting relatives. No penitentiary agents were held hostage, and none of the inmates escaped. As a precaution security was reinforced at other prisons and visits have been suspended for 30 days.

According to the Secretariat of Penitentiary Administration of Amazonas, Marcus Vinicius de Almeida, the fact that the killings started during visiting hours is a violation of an unwritten rule between prisoners. "This is the first time this has happened in Amazonas."

The first murders took place at the Anísio Jobim Penitentiary Complex which was the location of a similar riot in January 2017 when 56 members of Primeiro Comando do Capital (First Capital Command) were slaughtered by members of Familia do Norte. The killings were marked by their extreme brutality which has become something of a calling card for the faction.

Brazil's prison system has struggled for years with overcrowding. Currently, there are more than 700 thousand prisoners in a system designed for nearly half as many inmates. Violence plagues the institutions and criminal factions largely dominate the interior of the facilities. Complaints of torture at the hand's of prison authorities are common. Critics have said that the system has essentially become a mechanism for pushing youths into gangs.

Authorities conduct a search of inmates (Photo: SEAP Amazonas Social media)

Authorities conduct a search of inmates (Photo: SEAP Amazonas Social media)

Following the killings, President Jair Boslonaro provided resources and security forces to reinforce the state, including sending additional prison staff from Rio de Janeiro trained to work in dangerous and violent prison situations. Amazonas already has federal forces from Brazil's National Security Force acting in the state.

The state's Secretariat of Penitentiary Administration has organized the transfer of nine faction leaders to federal maximum security institutions.

Violence between criminal factions in Brazil has escalated over the last several years after the peace between the country's two largest factions broke down. Since then, groups like Familia do Norte have emerged in Brazil's peripheral states, capitalizing on the conflict to establish themselves.