Brazilian Prison System on Verge of Collapse

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An editorial published Monday outlines the imminent collapse of Brazil’s penitentiary system that cannot keep up with the higher number of Civil Police (PC) and Military Police (PM) arrests, as well as increased court convictions.

The editorial, printed by the national newspaper O Estado de San Paolo, cites a report on human rights put together by a group of São Paulo University (USP) professors and researchers linked to NEV, the Violence Study Center, a group focused on Latin America criminal sociology.

Brazil’s prison population now stands at close to 500,000; the third largest in the world behind the United States and China. According to the report, from 2005 to 2007 the number of male convicts increased 16.2 percent and the number of female convicts by 27.52 percent. The study concludes that the prison occupancy rate increased from 1.4 convicts per opening in the system to 1.8.

The overcrowding is attributed to tougher law enforcement. According to the National Justice Council (CNJ) from 2000 to 2010 the percentage of convicts incarcerated on drug related charges increased from 9 to 22.

Among Brazil’s prisoners, 56 percent have been convicted and 44 percent await trial. Some 60,000 people are lodged at police station prisons. Courts issued some 500,000 arrest warrants that have not been served. Due to the deplorable penitentiary conditions rehab efforts fail; the rate of repeat offenders stands at close to 70 percent against 16 percent in Europe and the United States.

Criminal gangs in Brazil are known to run kidnapping, extortion, drug and arm-trafficking schemes from behind bars. The most powerful of the prison gangs is the First Command of the Capital (PCC), thought to consist of 6,000 members. The PCC has known links with Brazil’s most notorious drug trafficking organization, Comando Vermelho, also created in prison.

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