Officials: Inmates coordinating Brazil prison riots on contraband phones

After the latest riot, police found 66 smuggled cellphones inside the prison


By C1 Staff

RIO DE JANEIRO — Cell phones have been used by inmates to coordinate drug deals, control gang activity and connect with the outside world for years. Inside Brazil’s prison walls, they offer inmates a way to plan mass attacks on rival gangs. 

More than 100 inmates died within two weeks after a territorial fight between two drug trafficking gangs led to a string of prison riots in early January. 

Relatives of prisoners wait to know the names of inmates who died in a prison riot, outside Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex in Manaus, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017.
Relatives of prisoners wait to know the names of inmates who died in a prison riot, outside Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex in Manaus, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Dantas)

After the riots died down, police found 66 smuggled contraband cell phones in the prison, Motherboard reported

Investigators said within hours, photos of decapitated prisoners appeared on social media and DVDs of the riot were sold for $1 on the street. 

“We are seeing the emergence of both digital and physical conflicts between public authorities and gangs,” Robert Muggah, research director at the Igarapé Institute, told Motherboard. “The communication of violence has become as important as the violence itself.”

Because of the difficulty of stopping contraband smuggling, the Brazilian government is relying on phone jammers to combat the issue. Jammers are installed in 45 percent of Brazilian prisons, according to the report. São Paulo authorities told Motherboard they plan on doubling the number of blockers in their prisons. 

But officials said the overcrowding and understaffing of their prisons limits what they can control. 

“The prison system is a ticking time bomb,” researcher Julimara Carvalho said. “The guards are easily manipulated by prisoners. They don’t know how to deal with threats or blackmail.”

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