Image Overcrowded Prisons in BrazilIn 2016 the Brazilian government promised reforms in response to the Human Rights Watch report of December 2015 extreme prison overcrowding and abuse. Brazilian officials proposed a new initiative that could improve prison conditions and reduce the sometimes years-long delays people face before seeing a judge. This report, released in English and Portuguese, documents conditions in prisons, in particular, in the state of Pernambuco, in the northeast region, and with the highest rate of overcrowding.

Based on interviews in the prisons and with local officials, Human Rights Watch found that almost 32,000 people are cramped in facilities designed to hold 10,500. In one cell, which had six cement bunks for 60 men, an inmate tied himself to the bars of the door so he could sleep sitting up, for lack of space on the floor. In that cell, the stench of sweat, feces, and mold was overpowering.

Prison authorities in Pernambuco hand-pick inmates who are given the keys of cells – essentially handing them control of the prisons. These inmates use violence and intimidation to run the facilities as personal fiefdoms. Some prisoners shared their stories in a video made by the HRW organization released with the report and which received more than 100,000 YouTube views in the first month.Image Pernambuco State Flag Brazil

Millions of Brazilians saw the shocking prison conditions as some TV networks in Brazil showed the video, including the TV Service of São Paulo´s subway trains, broadcast the video. Numerous publications around the world paid attention to this report. In response, the president of Pernambuco´s judiciary proposed appointing a judge to oversee Curado, the largest prison complex in the state.

He also proposed increasing the number of judges for drug cases, in order to address the current extremely long delays in proceedings. The proposal also strengthens a program that provides detainees with a hearing before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. In addition, Pernambuco’s Bar Association asked a court to order inspections of the prisons in the state, also citing our report as evidence of the inhumane conditions there.

Based on the efforts of Human Rights Watch and by the influence and international outreach of this report, the Brazilian government, on the occasion, at least gave more attention to this issue and promised to give priorities on this social issue.

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