Representatives of Conectas, Justiça Global and the Maranhão State Society of Human Rights conducted another inspection earlier this month at one of Brazil’s most perilous and violent prisons – the Pedrinhas Penitentiary Complex in São Luís, in the state of Maranhão, where 60 inmates were killed last year. And so far this year, another 12 unnatural deaths have been registered, 3 of which occurred while the inspection was underway.
Two cases are being treated by the police as suicides. One of the inmates had been talking to the inspectors just hours previously, and was visibly disturbed. The third prisoner was hanged and beaten.
Months after one of the most barbaric episodes in the history of the Brazilian prison system came to light, involving the decapitation of inmates in Pedrinhas, rival gangs continue to share the same degraded and overcrowded facility. Furthermore, there is no access to justice, complaints of torture and mistreatment are frequent, the hygiene, food and health conditions are inhumane and the brutal violence persists, despite the occupation by the National Security Force and the Riot Police.
According to the organizations, which are petitioners in a case against Brazil in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), at least 17 unnatural deaths have been registered in Maranhão so far in 2014. Of these, 12 occurred in Pedrinhas.
The inspectors concluded that Brazil has not complied with the precautionary measure issued by the IACHR in December 2013. The document called for a commitment from the authorities to end the violence and improve the detention conditions.
The details of the inspection will be submitted to the OAS at the beginning of August.
“This is a typical situation in which the inaction of the authorities and the passage of time have worsened a crisis that was already extremely serious,” said Rafael Custódio, coordinator of Justice at Conectas. “We spoke with inmates who have never been tried, who have already served their sentence or who committed crimes that do not even carry prison sentences. These people are victims of violence by the State, in all its spheres.”
Custódio claims that none of the families of the inmates killed at the prison have received any compensation, “which proves the inability of the government to admit the massive failure that is the Maranhão state prison system”. “The state and federal authorities announced, to great fanfare, a task force to solve the problems in Pedrinhas, but nothing we saw at the facility indicates any actual improvements.”
Since the start of the crisis, the organizations have requested a federal intervention in the Pedrinhas complex and the federalization of the crimes committed there, but no progress was ever made on either request.