.- After nearly 100 inmates died in gang-related riots at prisons in northern Brazil through Jan. 8, Church officials in the country have recommitted themselves to assisting in the rehabilitation of prisoners and parolees.
Riots at prisons in the states of Amazonas and Roraima between Jan. 1 and Jan. 8 have left 97 dead.
“There are a number of structural as well as technical problems today (in the prisons). In all this we have negligence of over a decade in the state of Roraima,” Father Gianfranco Graziola, deputy coordinator of prison ministry for the Brazilian bishops' conference, told CNA.
The ministry “has an agenda of disincarceration and restorative justice as commitments for democratization, which gives justice, and for the realization of a world without prisons.”
On Jan. 1, members of the First Capital Command gang were targeted by those of the Red Command at Anisio Jobim prison in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas. The two gangs are Brazil's most powerful, and a truce between them recently broke down.
56 were killed in the Jan. 1 riot, and 112 prisoners escaped; the same day, 72 escaped from the nearby Antonio Trindade prison. The following day, four inmates were killed at Manaus' Puraquequara jail.
On Jan. 6, inmates belonging to the First Capital Command killed 33 at the Monte Cristo penitentiary in Boa Vista, capital of Roraima.
And another four inmates were killed in a Jan. 8 riot at Manaus' Raimundo Vidal Pessoa prison.
The gangs, based in the southeastern cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, are fighting over control of drug trafficking routes. Many of their members have been transferred to jails in the country's north in an attempt to disrupt their ties.
But Brazil's prisons are overcrowded, underfunded, and overwhelmed by gang warfare. According to Brazilian daily Folha de S.Paulo, 372 inmates were killed inside the nation's prisons in 2016.
The Archdiocese of Manaus held a Mass for the victims of the riots Jan. 8, at which Archbishop Sérgio Castriani said, “We want to look at the world and its people as did Jesus. And Jesus looks with mercy. Justice without mercy is vengeance, and vengeance equates us with the violence committed.”
On Jan. 4 the Brazilian bishops' conference expressed their solidarity with the families of the deceased and expressed their readiness“to continue working to establish security that provides peaceful living conditions for the citizens and communities.”
“Prison ministry accompanies prisoners throughout the country and has called attention to, on repeated occasions, the serious problems of the prison system,” they noted.
The bishops also called on the authorities to carry out a thorough investigation of these incidents, and encouraged them to work for “a more just, dignified and humane prison system.”
The governors of Amazonas and Roraima have called on the federal government to restructure the penitentiaries, urging new buildings and increased security guards.