Credit: Rennett Stowe via Flickr (CC BY 2.).

The fight between rival factions gave rise to barbaric scenes of violence in Brazilian prisons 

A week has passed since the beginning of the new year, and 93 deaths have already been recorded in Brazilian prisons. A series of riots — a result of fights between criminal factions for control over drug trafficking  — have been pillaging the prisons. They’ve ended up with criminals themselves, armed with knives, filming and sharing scenes in which they rip off the heads of other detainees, cutting hearts and other parts of the body, as well as dead corpses being thrown out of the walls.

Such a massacre is partly due to the government’s own omission since there was already evidence from 2015 that such an attack would occur and yet nothing was done. This reinforces once more the urgency of the Brazilian State to retake control over prisons currently dominated by organized crime. Moreover, other factors were essential for the reproduction of such Dantesque scenes, such as the precariousness of the Brazilian prison system, marked by overcrowded jails and confined prisoners without the minimum standards of hygiene and safety.

The international repercussion

The situation, presenting a lack of infrastructure, negligence of the public power, violence and imminent collapse in the prisons, caught the attention of national and international organizations.

According to Pope Francis, it is of utmost importance that prisons be places for rehabilitation and social reintegration, and that the conditions of life of prisoners be worthy of human beings.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded an immediate and impartial investigation, calling on those responsible for responding in court. It requested Brazilian authorities to take measures to prevent further cases of violence, stating that what had happened was not an isolated incident, but rather a reflection of a chronic situation of detention centers in the country. In addition, it was stressed that the detainees are under the State’s custody and that, therefore, the authorities hold responsibility for what happens to the prisoners.

The NGO Amnesty International attributed the massacre to the negligence of the authorities and the overcrowding of Brazilian prisons, emphasizing that the conditions of the prison unit had already been denounced by the National Council of Justice, but that the necessary measures to correct the problem were not taken.

There were also controversial statements made, such as that of the National Youth Secretary Bruno Júlio, who resigned on Friday after saying publicly that there should be one slaughter per week and that there should have been more killing, and that of the governor of Amazonas state, who stated that there were no saints among those who were dead.

New National Security Plan

Pressured by the prison system crises and criticized for the long silence after the massacres, President Temer announced measures to try to appease the situation: a security package which covers the construction of five federal prisons — one in each region of the country — and the investment in more cell phone signal blockers and scanners.

“There will be the determination from the Ministry of Justice for distinguished buildings to be constructed inside the prisons that will be built in the states: one to keep those who committed crimes of greatest offensive potential, and the other for those of smaller offensive potential ” Temer explained.

A latent issue which deserves attention

The issue of violence is an increasingly prevalent matter in Brazilian reality, and it is a problem that needs to escape from shallow thinking and go straight to the roots of its true cause: social inequality among individuals.

There was a time when closed minds believed the reduction of violence would be found by simply investing in security, and in greater police brutality. It is now known that the accumulation of capital and the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of a small elite intensifies poverty in the peripheries, and diminishes the chances of poor individuals developing in life.

The tendency, in fact, is that poorer families with no opportunities are more likely to destabilize and go through financial and emotional problems, which generates rebellious teenagers who lean more towards crime. As says the writer Paulo Freire: “the dream of the oppressed one is to become the oppressor”.

It is necessary, therefore, that the governors realize that the true solution to violence lies not upon violence itself, but rather upon an education which gives freedom. It is essential for the State to invest in the training and qualification of young people through quality courses and schools, and in social programs such as sports and culture. If investments are made in schools, the need for building prisons will certainly decrease in the long run.

Similarly, it does not matter whether the prisoners who were victims of the massacre were saints or not; they are under the State’s protection, what is presupposed within the law, and they are paying for their mistakes as provided by the Constitution. Above all, they are human beings with rights. True democracy is done with equal rights and proper conditions of life.

Read more:Today’s Brazil: Political, Economic And Moral Downfall”,

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Luiz Felipe Moraes

Luiz Felipe Moraes is an Editor for Brazil in the Naked Opinion section of The Pavlovic Today. He is a Yale Young Global Scholar 2016. His interests revolve around International Relations, humanities,...

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