Human rights group denounces conditions in Brazilian prisons
Since the prisons are so full -- some at twice their capacity -- convicts
often held for their entire sentence in police station cells intended only for
Such lockups themselves become overcrowded, often holding up to 200
people in a space designed for 40, and it is there that torture and violence
are most widespread, Human Rights Watch said in its 150-page report.
In interviews that Human Rights Watch conducted across the country,
"prisoners credibly described being stripped naked and subjected to
beatings, electrical shocks and near drowning," the organization said.
The report also noted a number of incidents in which police summarily
executed prisoners, most recently during an escape attempt in February in
"Official violence is common," Joanne Mariner, the group's associate
counsel, said in a statement.
The lack of proper medical care is particularly severe in lockups "where
severely ill and even dying prisoners remain crowded with other inmates"
and where diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis have reached epidemic
proportions, the report said.
The justice ministry said it had not received the report and could not
Brazil has around 170,000 prisoners crammed into a system designed for
less than half that number. The government is building new prisons, but
Human Rights Watch said the number of new cells was insufficient.
Last year, 195 riots in jails and lockups were reported in Sao Paulo state
alone, and prison officials admit that overcrowding was the principal cause.
Most rioting inmates demanded only to be transferred to a penitentiary,
where they believe they would be less crowded.
President Fernando Henrique Cardoso recently signed a bill authorizing
alternative sentences such as house arrest or drug treatment for nonviolent
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.