HomeNewsBrief‘Volunteer’ Inmate Program Highlights Brazil Prison Crisis
BRIEF

‘Volunteer’ Inmate Program Highlights Brazil Prison Crisis

BRAZIL / 19 APR 2019 BY JOSEFINA SALOMÓN EN

A so-called voluntary work program in Rio de Janeiro prisons has highlighted long-term problems within Brazil's crumbling penitentiary system, a breeding ground for some of the most powerful crime groups in Latin America.

Rio de Janeiro’s state authorities issued, in July, a new category of “volunteer labor” for prisoners.

Under the emergency resolution, prisoners could volunteer to clean, cook, or carry out maintenance work in return for slightly reduced sentences. In late February, the measure was extended for another 180 days, Reuters reported.

Judge Rafael Estrela, who authorized the resolution, told Reuters that he did so because prison authorities insisted they had no funds to pay wages for basic maintenance tasks.

“Everything would stop ... trash would go uncollected, food would not be delivered, various repairs in the electrical and hydraulic grid would stop being made.” He said “it would be complete chaos.”

SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profiles

Experts say the resolution goes against federal and state laws, which require inmates to be paid for their work. It also goes against United Nations guidelines on the treatment of prisoners.

Brazil’s prison population has spiked in the past three decades and now stands at nearly 720,000 people, according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research.

Rio de Janeiro’s 56 prisons house about 53,000 inmates, more than double the amount that the facilities were meant to hold.

InSight Crime Analysis

Decrepit cells, chronic underfunding, severe overcrowding and violence have al all provided the conditions for prisons to become incubators of organized crime across Latin America, and Brazil's penitentiary system has spawned its most powerful criminal groups.

Both the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), two of the most powerful criminal organizations in Latin America, were born and gained strength inside the walls of Brazil’s prisons.

As InSight Crime reported in a special investigation, both gangs started as organizations seeking to improve conditions amid rampant abuse and killings. But the gangs soon morphed into powerful criminal networks, which now control marginal neighborhoods across Brazil and run a broad range of criminal activities, including drug trafficking. The prison gangs have also expanded into neighboring countries.

SEE ALSO: The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

Brazil is not alone in seeing its jails reinforce organized crime structures.

In Mexico, for example, criminal groups like the Zetas expanded their influence and power within the jails. In El Salvador, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 gangs coordinate their operations, including political interference, from within prisons.

Brazil’s far-right President Jail Bolsonaro has promised to tackle the massive prison gangs, which have spurred Brazil’s record murder rates.

The plan, which top security officials detailed to Reuters, aims to isolate gang bosses and increase surveillance. It also calls for building more jails and deploying federal security forces in prisons.

So far, authorities in Brazil have failed to rein in the prison gangs, which now wield vast power from behind jailhouse walls.

“The solution to public security in Brazil depends on lots of things, and one of those is the prison system,” Fabiano Bordignon, Bolsonaro’s appointment as head of the National Penitentiary Department, told Reuters.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BRAZIL / 6 NOV 2013

São Paulo's state government is rolling out new measures to combat Brazil's PCC prison gang, but there are reasons to…

BRAZIL / 9 JAN 2012

Peruvian groups carry out illegal logging in Brazil before transporting the wood along tributaries of the Amazon into Peru, unhindered…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 14 NOV 2012

Uruguay is investigating 20 police officers for the disappearance of some 200 firearms over the past two years, as…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…