Brazil prison carnage

brazil jails

Kyla Herrmannsen

At least 218 inmates have been murdered behind bars in prisons in Brazil since January 2013. An example of this carnage was recently exposed in a bloody video allegedly filmed on an inmate’s cellphone. The video, now viral, shows three inmates being violently beheaded by fellow inmates. This video and a rising death toll have prompted media reports to label Brazilian jails as ‘medieval’ and a ‘powder key system’ waiting to explode.

Brazil’s prison population is the 4th highest in the world after America, China and Russia, currently resulting in 207 000 more inmates than the country’s jail system is designed to house. Despite an exponentially rising jail population, federal prison spending fell in 2012. This has reportedly lead to a boom in gangs running prisons – where rival gangs control access to basic amenities. A story published in The Economist noted, “Criminal gangs have filled the vacuum left by the state. In exchange for loyalty and a membership fee, gangs offer protection, bring supplies (including sanitary towels), bus families in for visits and even pay for lawyers. They also maintain order—until a rival outfit emerges. A challenge to an established gang seems to have been behind the violence in Pedrinhas.”

41% of Brazil’s inmates are said to be in pre-trial detention. This is similar to South African statistics, where remand detainees currently make up a third of our prison population. Pre-trial detention conditions in Brazil, as described in this Al Jazeera report – “During provisional detention, inmates live inside overcrowded cells, are in contact with highly dangerous prisoners, are likely to go through systematic torture – as the UN has stated – and to be approached by criminal factions controlling facilities” – sound familiar to remand detention conditions in South African prisons.

Read these two insightful articles for more information on the current situation behind bars in Brazil:

Welcome to the Middle Ages

Brazil’s powder keg prison system


About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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