The last days had seen a number of bad news from Brazilian prisons. I‘ve been asked, what‘s up in Brazilian prisons, and if I could write a few words about it. It‘s a frustrating topic, but here we go.

Some days ago news came from the very north of Brazil. In a prison in Boa Vista – capital of the state Roraima – 18 inmates were killed cruesome and later more than 100 visitors, most of them women, had been taken as hostages before being freed again by special forces of the Police. It was only a short note that in another prison on Porto Velho in the state of Rondônia eight inmates were also killed during a revolt.

Two days ago came more bad news from the state of São Paulo. Some buildings of the hospital prison in Franco da Rocha had been set on fire during a revolt, the neighboring state park also caught fire and in the chaos 55 inmates fled the prison – of which 50 have already been captured again.

So what is up in Brazilian prisons? To understand this, you have to let go all your ideas of a „normal“ prison. Brazil has a crazily high number of prisoners – at the moment more than 622.000  – while the prisons were built for a lot less inmates. Brazilian prisons are by many considered hell and most “normal“ Brazilians are seriously scared to spend a night in one. Hygiene is said to be catastrophic, rooms are massively overcrowded and prisons in general do not aim at reintegrating inmates into society but at scaring everybody else off.

Some people claim that the Brazilian government has already given up on prisons. While there are supposedly progressive approaches like reducing an inmates sentence by some days for every book he or she reads, this is an exception. Most prisons are governed by corruption and violence, many times by one of the two big organized crime gangs, Comando Vermelho (CV) or Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC). The wars between these organizations are horribly violent, inside and outside of the prisons. Only last week, for example, busses were burned down in Maceió, capital of the northeastern state of Alagoas, a well-known way of leading their disputes and wars.

Overcrowded, corruption, violence, drugs. The worst about these news is that these problems are all but new, they are known for decades. Carandiru has become kind of a synonym for this – the former prison in the city of São Paulo was infamous for violence gang crime, drugs, corruption and brutality by prison guards. 1992 happened a revolt in this giant prison, which was brutally crushed by special police forces – more than 100 inmates died, many by police violence. The massacre of Carandiru was turned into a movie and it describes, what the problems of Brazilian prisons are – back then and today.


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Foto by Carol Garcia / AGECOM via flickr

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