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The troubling state of prisons in Brazil

The President of Brazil, Michel Temer, is struggling to gain control of Brazil’s overcrowded and dangerous prisons where riots are becoming a norm. In the last year almost 100 prisoners have been killed due to the violence within the prison system, and usually in gruesome ways of being mutilated and decapitated. On New Year’s Day 2017, a riot lasted 17 hours within a prison close to Manaus, where 56 prisoners died. The police struggled to quell the fighting, and the initial cause of the ruthless killings was due to rival drug gangs. One of the gangs based in the Amazon, called the Family of the North initiated an attack on the First Capital Command who are based in São Paulo. The cause of the bloodshed is due to control of drug smuggling routes. Drug gangs prove powerful adversaries not only outside the prison walls, but within confinement as well.

The mix of violent rival gangs and dreadful prison conditions result in numerous deaths and a problem, which seems impossible to stop. For Brazil who has the fourth largest prison population, space is limited. The current layout of the prisons is meant to hold around 300,000, but 500,000 are currently within its walls. The poor quality of penitentiaries in Brazil has been compared to the medieval era, and showcases the looming social issues that plagues Brazil. The citizens of Brazil have voiced their concerns, like in a 2013 protest in regards to a lack of safety within Brazil’s borders as quality of life has diminished due to the lack of public services, and an increase in violence. In one prison brawl on Jan. 15 in Southern Brazil, Piraquara State Prison, 28 inmates were able to escape increasing public safety concerns.

This violence is initiated through two main actions of overcrowding of prisons where personal rights are overlooked and drug gangs who holds a large portion of power within the system. According to Claudio Lamachia, the president of the Brazilian Bar Association, many of the issues of violence are due to court proceedings that can bypass needing the full prosecution to make a sentence. This gives law enforcement utmost power to control inmate’s lives, without the due process usually found in democratic nations. With the prison system having a population explosion of 508% between 1990 and 2013 the possible corruption within the judicial system is unthinkable.

Once within the penitentiaries the environment is abhorring, with “squalid and cramped jail cells – where prisoners often lack toiletries, bedding and other basic necessities” as reported by The Washington Post. These conditions allow for the drug gangs, especially the largest, Primeiro Comando da Capital also called First Capital Command to gain control, and even recruit these prisoners who live in these desperate conditions. The inability on the part of the penitentiary officers to quell the massive riots around the country’s overcrowded prisons, and the overall strength of the drug gangs leave Brazil in a troubling state of affairs. Temer has recently announced the next steps to deal with the national issue through a new prison system in the works, but currently chaos has been rampant.

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