SAO PAULO – At least 56 inmates have fled a prison in the northeastern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte where gang clashes earlier this month left 26 dead, police officials said on Thursday.
Authorities thus far have recaptured only four of the inmates who escaped the Alcaçuz prison, located in the Natal metropolitan area and Rio Grande do Norte’s largest, Military Police sources told EFE.
The number of missing inmates was announced after a head count was conducted as part of an elite police operation to take control of the penitentiary.
In recent days, members of the elite National Public Security Force have found at least four tunnels believed to have been dug at that prison by the inmates, who have taken advantage of recent rains that softened the soil.
Due to the lack of adequate security conditions at Alcaçuz, where some wards have not had windows or doors since a 2015 riot, Rio Grande do Norte Gov. Robinson Faria said Wednesday that the prison would be taken out of service shortly.
The inmates will be transferred to three prisons scheduled to be opened soon, the state government said.
Separately, authorities plan to build a permanent 90-meter wall inside Alcaçuz to separate prisoners belonging to two rival gangs: the First Capital Command (PCC), a criminal organization based in the southeastern state of Sao Paulo that is Brazil’s largest, and the local SDC gang.
Inmates from those two gangs have repeatedly fought for control of the prison since Jan. 14, when members of the PCC allegedly started a riot and targeted members of the SDC in a round of brutal violence that left 26 dead.
Brazil’s ongoing prison crisis, one of the deadliest in its history, began when 56 people were butchered in gang violence at a penitentiary in the Amazon city of Manaus at the start of 2017.
The violence has since spread to other prisons nationwide and claimed more than 130 lives.