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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
04BRASILIA1450 2004-06-14 13:11:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Brasilia
Cable title:  

BRAZIL'S PRISONS IN STATE OF CRISIS

Tags:   PHUM PGOV SOCI KCRM BR 
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BRASILIA 001450 

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/BSC

TAGS: PHUM PGOV SOCI KCRM BR
SUBJECT: BRAZIL'S PRISONS IN STATE OF CRISIS

REF: A)Brasilia 1073
B)Brasilia 011



1. SUMMARY. The three-day rebellion in Benfica
Prison in Rio de Janeiro ended May 31, taking place
six weeks after the gruesome rebellion in the Urso
Branco prison in Brazil's western Rondonia state. The
two uprisings were not isolated events, but rather are
manifestations of the crisis in Brazil's penitentiary
system. There are simply not enough cells to
accommodate all 308,000 prisoners in Brazil. Beyond
overcrowding, prisons also face poor sanitary
conditions, disease, abuse of prisoners, corrupt
prison guards and officials, and a shortage of
funding. The government needs to invest more in
n
building new prisons, but the current priority is
spending on policing and combating crimes.
Strengthening the penitentiary system would be part of
a broader security package aimed to create reasonable
security, health and sanitary conditions inside
prisons. The GoB plans to disburse R$180 million
(about USD 60 million) for security upgrades decided
upon by state governments. END SUMMARY.

RIO'S BENFICA REBELLION


--------------------------




2. The May 28-31 Benfica uprising was the second
longest-lasting rebellion ever in the state of Rio de
Janeiro. Thirty inmates and one guard were killed and
fourteen inmates were injured. According to Rio's
Prison Director, Astirio Pereira dos Santos, the
rebellion began as a battle between rival gangs (Third
Command vs. Red Command) that went out of control due
to lack of proper security measures. The Coordinator
of the Prison Community Council, Marcelo Freixo,
pointed out that mixing the different gangs was
"explosive". At the time of the uprising, there were
more than 800 prisoners in the prison; at least 14
escaped, three of whom were recaptured. An
evangelical pastor with experience working in prisons
joined the negotiations and ended the impasse when he
persuaded the inmates to free twenty-one hostages.
Afterward, human rights NGOs were not allowed into the
institution. Benfica may be the worst uprising in
Brazil since the notorious 1992 massacre in Sao
Paulo's Carandiru prison left 111 inmates dead. The
Getulio Vargas Foundation reports that the profile of
prisoners in Rio de Janeiro is 97% male, 52% in their
twenties, 67% black, and 43% with less than seven
years education. Out of 3,300 prison guards in the
state, only 1,400 work directly with prisoners, of
whom there are more than 20,000 (the population has
doubled in the last five years).

URSO BRANCO UPRISING


--------------------------




4. A gruesome April 16 uprising in the Urso Branco
("White Bear") prison in Porto Velho, the capital of
Brazil's western Rondonia state, carried a similar
message about the crisis in the Brazilian penitentiary
system (ref A). On April 16, hundreds of prisoners
rebelled and expelled the guards from the prison,
keeping 167 hostages (mostly women who had been
visiting inmates). During the five-day rebellion,
fourteen prisoners died, and masked inmates standing
atop the walls were photographed throwing body parts
of dismembered victims over the walls. These victims
were prisoners said to be informers or unwilling to
cooperate with the rebellion's leaders. The prisoners
were demanding better conditions, and after five days
Rondonia state Governor Ivo Cassol gave in to most of
their demands. The widely broadcast images of the
brutal rebellion, and Governor Cassol's concessions,
sparked public debate over prison conditions in
Brazil.

OAS TAKES BRAZIL TO TASK


--------------------------




5. This was not the first outbreak in Urso Branco.
Some 80 inmates have been killed in riots there over
the last three years. In 2002, 27 prisoners were
killed during a rebellion that began as an escape
attempt (ref B). After that episode, the Inter-
American Commission for Human Rights recommended that
Brazil adopt measures to protect inmates there. But
when the GoB failed to comply with the
recommendations, the case was sent to the OAS's Inter-
American Court for Human Rights (becoming the first
Brazilian case to come before this court). After this
April's uprising, the Court summoned Brazil on April
22 to a public hearing to discuss failures at Urso
Branco (which holds three times its capacity of 350
prisoners). Minister of Justice Marcio Thomaz Bastos
has publicly admitted that the Urso Branco riot was
caused by overcrowding.

116,000 INMATES OVER CAPACITY


--------------------------




6. Prison overcrowding is widespread in Brazil. The
federal government's National Penitentiary Department
(NPD) statistics indicate that there are now 308,000
inmates in jails and prisons nationwide. When
President Lula took office in January 2003, there were
57,000 more inmates than capacity. This number has
doubled: there are now 116,000 more prisoners than
capacity. In the case of Santa Catarina state, the
lack of prison space is leading to discontent among
police, as officers complain that they risk their
lives to arrest criminals and then watch them walk
free. In some cases, police have had to negotiate
with the courts to decide who should be incarcerated
and who released. Overcrowding is also a grave
problem at Sao Paulo's FEBEM juvenile detention
centers, which register frequent escapes and other
problems. One of the most common requests made by
detainees in all Brazilian prisons (as well as by
violence specialists) is to separate common prisoners
from the most dangerous inmates, a measure that could
reduce violence and uprisings.



7. Along with overcrowding, lack of good sanitary
conditions, diseases and abuse of prisoners are
commonplace and are described by human rights
organizations including Human Rights Watch and the
Human Rights National Movement. Prisoners are
subjected to unhealthy conditions. The Ministry of
Health reports that tuberculosis and AIDS are common
in the inmate population.



8. Brazil's 1988 Constitution mandates that the
states are responsible for the penitentiary system.
In reality, the states generally fund much of their
public security budgets with federal money. Thus,
tight federal budgets have forced Security
Secretariats in all twenty-seven states to request

SIPDIS
specific federal funds for public security, including
for the penitentiary system. Former senior official
at the Ministry of Justice Elizabeth Sussekind said in
press reports that the scarce resources available in
the states are usually destined for police forces and
to combat crime: "The lack of resources together with
the government's not paying attention is explosive,"
she noted. She admits that Brazil is behind other
countries on the issue of human rights in prisons.



9. To avoid more riots and to accommodate all
prisoners, the National Penitentiary Department is
planning to begin building three new penitentiaries in


2004. By the end of Lula's term in December 2006,
five maximum-security prisons are planned, one of
which is a new prison in Rondonia. Edison Vidigal,
the new Chief Justice of Brazil's Supreme Justice
Tribunal, has recently proposed building a maximum
security prison on an island off Brazil's coast. With
the bloody uprising in Rondonia's Urso Branco prison
and drug traffickers in Rio's Rocinha favela capturing
the headlines this year, the GoB announced in late
April the release of R$180 million (about USD 60
million) for security investments in all states. This
money is important to the states, since the federal
government has only released R$1.8 million (about USD
600,000) for public security investments nationwide
this year.

COMMENT


--------------------------




10. It is not news that Brazilian prisons are in a
state of crisis and have been for years. The Lula
administration, like previous governments has not come
up with funding or an effective plan to address the
problem. The outlook is not promising, as President
Lula has slashed funding for a whole range of social
programs in such a constricted budget environment, it
remains to be seen whether money and political will
are available to address the deepening prison crisis.
HRINAK