The prison conditions in Latin America continue to be a crippling problem for the justice system, highlighted by the recent events in Brazil. On January 7, 2014, the Brazilian daily newspaper Folha de São Paulo released a gruesome video showing the decapitation of three inmates. The video was taken, presumably, by inmates of Pedrinhas prison (São Luis, Brazil), on December 17, 2014.
This is just one example of the general violence in Brazilian prisons, especially in the state of Maranhão (north Brazil), where, from 2007 to now, approximately one hundred sixty nine inmates have been killed (sixty two in Predrinhas prison during 2013).
Amnesty International has denounced the situation and has described Brazilian prisons as overcrowded dungeons. They claim the government has done little to remedy these conditions. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has also urged the Brazilian authorities to conduct an “immediate, impartial and effective” investigation.
The main causes of the problems are delays in the judicial system, lack of sufficient prison spots and the low ratio of police/inmate population. According to the International Prison Study Center, Brazil has the fourth largest inmate population in the world with 548,003 inmates housed in a penitentiary system with a capacity of 318,739.
The international pressure created due to the release of the prison decapitation video has resulted in the Minister of Justice, José Eduardo Cardozo, announcing a package of emergency measures aimed at trying to control chaos in prisons. These measures will be a positive first step in Brazilian prison reform, although without true long-term reform in the justice system prison overcrowding will continue to foster major problems.
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Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
For more information, please see: http://mexico.cnn.com/mundo/2014/01/10/brasil-despliega-un-plan-de-emergencia-contra-la-violencia-en-sus-carceles
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