Inmates at a semi-open prison in Brazil work on roads

Over 2,400 Brazilian prisoners escaped after being given leave to return home over the Christmas and New Year's Eve period, in another indictment of Brazil’s malfunctioning penal system.

In total, 47,531 prisoners were granted a temporary release over the holidays, 5.1 percent of whom -- 2,416 -- did not return. In 2011, almost exactly the same proportionabsconded, reported G1.

The temporary releases are granted as a reward for good behavior for prisoners housed in semi-open prisons who have served at least one sixth of their sentence, for first-time offenders, or a quarter, for repeat offenders.

Prisoners are able to claim up to five releases a year to spend time with their family, usually for Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Children Day, Christmas and one other day of their choice.

In the state with the highest desertion rate, Sergipe, 21 percent of prisoners who were given leave absconded. The director of the Sergipe penal system, Manuel Lucio Torres, told G1 that some prisoners plan their escape by behaving well to secure the temporary release. Torres called for cases to be evaluated individually to determine if each prisoner is a flight risk, regardless of their behaviour.

InSight Crime Analysis

Brazil has the third largest prison population in the world, with over half a million inmates, and its penal system has become notorious for overcrowding, and criminal activity.

The country’s prisons are also the birthplace of some of Brazil’s most infamous gangs including the First Capital Command (PCC) and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and many criminal enterprises are still at least partially run from the inside.

As the festive period escapees were housed in low security prisons, it is unlikely many of them belonged to such feared criminal organizations. However there have been cases of inmates offending while on temporary release, and the sheer number of escapees suggests a serious issue. This could be curbed by the increased use of electronic tagging devices -- a nascent technology in the Brazilian penal system.