Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening mainly due to overcrowding, but many states made efforts to improve them. Abuse by prison guards, including sexual abuse, continued to occur at many facilities. Poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. The National Justice Council (CNJ) reported that as of June the prison system contained approximately 567,000 inmates in a system designed for 357,000 persons. The largest prison populations were in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais states.
The states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo and the Federal District provided separate prison facilities for women; elsewhere, according to the Catholic Church’s Penitentiary Commission, women occasionally were held with men.
Federal prisons and state detention centers in the Federal District and in the states of Sao Paulo, Pernambuco, Acre, and Amazonas faced severe overcrowding. Government data showed that correctional facilities in Sao Paulo State were 79 percent over capacity, 233 percent over capacity in Pernambuco, 173 percent over capacity in Acre, 217 percent over capacity in Amazonas, and 99 percent over capacity in the Federal District.
During the year the CNJ provided reports of prison inspections it conducted in the states of Sao Paulo, Rondonia, Rio Grande do Sul, Pernambuco, and Minas Gerais. None of the reports indicated evidence of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, but several stated prisoners in some facilities believed they were at risk from other prisoners.
On August 25, a major riot occurred in a prison in the southern city of Cascavel, Parana State, when more than 1,000 inmates protested poor conditions within the prison. During the two days of rioting, five inmates were killed by other inmates--including two beheadings--and captured prison guards suffered physical abuse. Much of the prison was occupied by inmates during the riot, and 20 of the 24 wings were destroyed. To end the standoff, authorities agreed to move inmates to other prisons within the state.
Frequently prisoners who committed petty crimes were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required holding convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. Many prisons, including in the Federal District, attempted to separate violent offenders from nonviolent ones and to keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population.
The law stipulates juveniles should not be held together with adults in jails, but this was not always respected. Multiple sources reported adolescents jailed with adults in poor and crowded conditions. Insufficient capacity in juvenile detention centers was widespread.
Violence was rampant in some prison facilities. The media reported that one prison death occurred every 10 days in Maranhao State, usually the result of gang fights. There were a number of uprisings in the large Pedrinhas prison complex in addition to mass escapes in January and September, with reportedly more than 100 inmates escaping. Violence from the prison gangs spilled over into the neighboring city of Sao Luis as gangs burned city buses. In September at the request of the state government, the federal government deployed troops to stabilize the area.
Poor administration of the prison system, corruption, and overcrowding were the primary criticisms of the penitentiary system in the Northeast. On September 16, Pedrinhas prison director Claudio Barcelos was arrested for accepting bribes in exchange for facilitating inmate escapes. His predecessor was arrested the year before on similar charges. According to the Maranhao State Justice and Prison Administration Secretariat, 2,200 prisoners were housed in Pedrinhas, where designed capacity is 1,770. The Anibal Bruno Prison, located in Pernambuco State, continued to face severe overcrowding, with 6,862 prisoners in a facility designed for 1,466. Of this total, 4,448 had yet to face trial at year’s end.
Since 2004 the National Penitentiary Department disbursed approximately 55 million reais ($23.7 million) to the Maranhao State government to build seven prison buildings and increase capacity by more than 1,600 prisoners; however, the state government reportedly returned the money due to mismanagement of projects.
Prisoners had access to potable water, but sanitary conditions were often inadequate and facilitated the spread of disease. HIV and tuberculosis rates in prisons were far higher than rates for the general population. There was no information available on the adequacy of the food provided or if there were food shortages.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate in most facilities. There was an online database during the year to monitor prisoners’ cases and time served, but this system did not always function properly.
Authorities used alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders. Individuals sentenced to less than eight years in prison had the option to serve in “semi-open” conditions, whereby the individual could work during the day and sleep at the prison facility at night. The CNJ found that thousands of prisoners sentenced to semi-open facilities served their sentences in “closed,” or high-security, facilities.
Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors. Human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams. On August 13, Sao Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin signed legislation that prohibits invasive physical exams for prison visitors, instead employing metal detectors and X-ray machines for security checks.
Prisoners could observe their religious practices and could submit complaints to judicial authorities. State-level ombudsman offices and the federal Secretariat of Human Rights (SDH) officials also monitored prison and detention center conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations.
Improvements: There were 11 new prisons under construction.
In February the state of Pernambuco created the Committee to Combat and Prevent Torture. Members of the committee include the Prosecutor’s Office, the Judiciary, and the Bar Association, state government entities, the Regional Medical Council, and civil society groups.
In July a Sao Paulo judge ordered the removal of four directors of the Penitentiary II of Potim, Nilson Agostinho de Paula, Gustavo Henrique Costa, Adao Jose Marinho, and Jose Carlos Marcelino, who were held responsible for the physical abuse of inmates within the prison.
In July 150 inmates from Pernambuco prisons participated in the National Handcraft Business Fair (Fenearte), making handcraft products to be sold at the fair. Fenearte is the biggest handcraft fair in Latin America, with more than 300,000 visitors every year. According to the Pernambuco Office of Resocialization, this experience was an opportunity to reacclimate inmates to society, keep them occupied, and provide them with extra income through the sales of the products.