December 15, 1998

Human rights group denounces conditions in Brazilian prisons

                  SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) -- Torture, beatings and summary executions are
                  common occurrences in Brazil's severely overcrowded prison system, the
                  U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday.

                  Since the prisons are so full -- some at twice their capacity -- convicts are
                  often held for their entire sentence in police station cells intended only for
                  temporary detention.

                  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
                  Natal province.

                  "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.