Brazil to Address Inmate Violence with New Prison Construction

BRASILIA, Brazil — Chronic overcrowding and a rash of recent riots prompted Brazilian President Michel Temer to announce on Jan. 16 that the country will construct 30 new prisons in the coming year.

Plans include the construction of five maximum-security facilities, which will primarily house members of rival drug gangs, according to Reuters. Gang violence has escalated severely in recent weeks and turf wars are largely blamed for the inmate rioting that has killed at least 140 inmates since Jan. 1.

The country’s existing prisons house an estimated 620,000 inmates and are near bursting at more than 50 percent over their rated capacity, according to Reuters. Despite being the world’s fourth largest prison system, Brazil’s approximately 1,400 correctional facilities are largely understaffed and underfunded, exacerbating the recent violence. Currently, the country maintains four federal maximum-security prisons, which have been forced to absorb a number of inmates from state facilities following the rioting.

The solution will cost an estimated $309 million. This funding will also include the construction of 25 new prisons built jointly by the federal government and individual state governments.

Speaking with Reuters, President Temer expressed a desire to expedite the construction of these prisons, which generally take two to three years to complete using traditional construction methods. “By using pre-fabricated buildings — which has already been done in Espirito Santo state — perhaps we can build all of these prisons in one year,” Temer said.

Newer and better facilities are also expected to help curb the influx of contraband — including drugs and guns — trafficked by the country’s powerful prison gangs. Reuters reported that many incarcerated gang leaders use cell phones to continue operating their criminal networks from inside. Two of the largest gangs have most recently struggled over control of trafficking routes, causing a series of extremely violent inmate-on-inmate attacks and rioting at the Alcaçuz prison in the state of Rio Grande do Norte.

In addition to new prison construction, Temer told Reuters his administration also plans to ensure better inmate segregation and classification. Separating violent and non-violent offenders is also intended to curb gang recruitment. In addition to larger work to stop the drug trade, the president added that the government would also work to ensure speedier hearings to further reduce overcrowding, and take a census of current inmates to identify those who have completed their sentences but have not yet been released.