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Brazil Grapples With Challenge Of Reforming Prison System After Gruesome Video Surfaces

posted 9 Jan 2014, 14:08 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 9 Jan 2014, 14:09 ]

An expert on Brazil's prison system says he doesn't expect any changes in the wake of the intense scrutiny the country is facing after video of inmate decapitations surfaces earlier in the week.

MARANHAO STATE, BRAZIL (TV RECORD)  -  An international outcry erupted this week after video surfaced showing the brutal decapitation of three prisoners incarcerated in a penitentiary located in Brazil's Maranhao state.

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The video, said to have been filmed last December 17 and then posted on Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo's website this Tuesday (January 7), exhibited horrific scenes of violence which took place during a riot.

In the gruesome video that was reportedly recorded on a cell phone, inmates torture, murder and then behead their three fellow prisoners.

A prison workers union obtained the images and then handed them over to Folha de Sao Paulo.

The violent images set off a firestorm of criticism.

The United Nation's Office of the High Commission for Human Rights joined the campaign, urging the Brazilian government to investigate the killings which occurred in the Pedrinhas Penitentiary Complex located in northeastern Maranhao state.

The U.N. commission has also called on Brazilian authorities to take immediate action in attempting to stem prison violence and reduce overcrowding.

Anderson Silva, a professor of sociology in Rio de Janeiro who has both studied and wrote a book on Brazil's failing penal system, said on Thursday (January 9) that he doesn't expect any real change once the controversy vanishes from the headlines.

"The international outcry comes with much cynicism in this Brazilian case. People propagate, place themselves in the media, but in terms of how the criminal justice system functions and its control, nothing will be done. The authorities will play their classic cards committing themselves to the value of human dignity, the protection of rights for those that are incarcerate, but after this moment has passed, everything in the penitentiary system with go back to the way it was before," Silva said.

According to the Brazil's National Justice Council, known by the Portuguese acronym of CNJ, nearly 60 inmates have been killed in Pedrinhas since January 2013.

In an inspection performed by a local judge of the Pedrinhas prison late last December it was also discovered that female visitors were being raped by inmates of rival gangs.

In Brazil's capital city of Brasilia authorities and the Council for the Defence of Human Rights, nationally known as the CDDPH, convened on Thursday to discuss measures of reform.

Maranhao state representative Domingos Dutra said that there is currently no real system in effect at Pedrinhas that is preparing inmates to eventually rejoin the outside world.

"One hundred percent of the prisoners in Maranhao aren't working or studying. Therefore, there is not a policy of resocialization. What we have is just a warehouse of prisoners," Dutra said.

Local media reports that officially Pedrinhas prison only has space for 1,700 inmates yet is currently home to 2,200.

While the video of the decapitations in Maranhao's Pedrinhas prison are horrific, prison violence, rioting, rebellion and even beheadings are not uncommon in Brazil's troubled penal system.

Silva said that the State has an obligation to provide for and protect those that it incarcerates.

"There is no death penalty in the Brazilian legislation. If there isn't, then the State which incarcerates takes on the responsibility for the inmate it jails and has an obligation to preserve their life. Now, listen how absurd it is, one person that is jailed for a theft, regardless of what they stole is then force to carve out a life within the penitentiary system. Who has committed the major crime? He who committed the theft or the State who takes away his ability to have a life?" Silva said.

At least 218 homicides were committed in Brazil's prisons in 2013 according to Folha de Sao Paulo.

Penitentiaries like Rondonia state's Urso Branco prison and Rio de Janeiro's Bangu prison have also experienced violent uprisings and gang violence which then led to several inmate deaths.

According to Brazil's National Department of Penitentiaries, known by its Portuguese acronym of DEPEN, between 2009 and 2012 the number of individuals incarcerated rose by 60 percent.