Top UN Rep Says Prisons Have Abandoned Rehabilitation

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Prisons in Latin America have abandoned any notion of rehabilitating inmates, warned the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture, highlighting how penitentiary systems fuel insecurity and criminal groups across the region.

Responding to video footage released last week showing decapitations inside a Brazilian jail, the UN’s Juan Ernesto Mendez told Folha de São Paulo newspaper that prisoners left jails worse than when they entered.

“In Latin America (…) the situation is: put them in jail and close the door,” he said. “Many countries, like Brazil, have abandoned the idea of recuperation. We should all think it is a grave error to abandon social and moral recuperation.”

Nations could not blame their lack of resources for their poor jails, said Mendez, because there were other countries in the world “that have an exemplary and dignified penitentiary system [despite the fact] there is little money.”

Staff at Pedrinhas jail in Brazil’s northeastern state of Maranhao gave Folha de São Paulo a video last week showing prisoners posing next to decapitated bodies. A total of 62 inmates were killed inside Pedrinhas jail last year, reported CNN.

InSight Crime Analysis

Horrific violence and scores of prisoner deaths are par for the course every year in severely overcrowded and underfunded penitentiary systems across the region, which are frequently run by the inmates themselves.

These so-called “rehabilitation centers” have mostly abandoned any notion of helping their prisoners re-enter society and do little to improve security. In Latin America, prisons more often become training and regrouping zones for organized crime.

As Mendez points out, resources are only one issue that needs to be addressed. While the severe underfunding of Latin American prison facilities is a major cause of why they have gotten so out of control, a lack of political will to truly address the problem and a failure to understand what an effective prison system really entails, are perhaps the overarching roots of the issue.

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