Brazil: Prisons – a time bomb that could explode at any time

Brazil has the fourth-largest prison population in the world. Hugely overcrowded. Under-guarded and underfunded prisons. Above all in the hands of different gang leaders.

Talking about prisons means talking about a factory of torture, which produces violence and creates monsters. It is a stressful environment and barbarism is constant”, said Father Valdir João Silveira, national coordinator of the Prison Ministry of Brazil. Following the news of the tragedy on the 4th January in Anísio Jobim (Compaj) penitentiary in Manaus, where 56 people were killed. Many families and institutions that collaborate in the assistance of prisoners in this center and in other penitentiary centres in the country denounced what was happening.

“We only see people who are injured, crammed cells and bad diet. What happened in Compaj happens in different places in Brazil, in Rio Grande do Norte, in Rondonia and Parana.. It is a time bomb that could explode at any time, all over the country”, reiterated Father Valdir.

According to the priest, there are different disorders in the country every day, but only the most important ones are reported by the press. The uprisings are motivated by overcrowding and will only decrease after the government implements a series of measures. The first would be to provide legal assistance to prisoners.

The priest pointed out that many prisoners awaiting trial are in a cell with convicted prisoners. According to the latest local news agencies, the situation is not peaceful and the government very recently authorised federal forces to go to three Brazilian states, Amazonas, Rondonia and Mato Grosso, to calm down the riots in the prisons of these regions. After the case of Manaus, there was the massacre of Monte Cristo in Boa Vista (Roraima), where on the 6th January 33 prisoners were killed.

Hugely overcrowded, under-guarded, and underfunded, prisons bring another risk – corruption. The government’s absence opens the door for different gang leaders to seize power by providing “services” which are not provided by the state and impose their will by force.

Brazil has the fourth-largest prison population in the world.  More than 620,000 men and women live in desperately overcrowded prisons, where even their most basic rights are not respected. Cells are moldy and windowless and dozens of men compete for space to sleep on the floor. To call Brazil’s prison conditions cruel and inhumane is to say the very least – it is a “human rights disaster”, as Human Rights Watch has recently declared.

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