The prison facilities of the Pedrinhas prison complex, located in the Maranhão state capital of São Luís, must be overhauled to comply with international regulations that set minimum standards for hygiene, climatic conditions, heating and lighting, as well as the separation of prisoners by criminal record, not just by gang affiliation. The complex has earned international infamy after it was the stage of a series of riots between 2013 and 2014 that left more than 60 people dead.
Within the period of one year, the cells and cell blocks of the nine prisons that make up the complex will need, for example, to have windows, toilets and showers, as well as clothing and bedding, in accordance with the guidelines of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners – also called the “Mandela Rules”.
The order is contained in a resolution published this Thursday, April 12, by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, a body of the OAS (Organization of American States) of which Brazil is part. The Brazilian government has three months to present a technical assessment and a detailed plan indicating how these structural reforms will be implemented. The study must also include measures to reduce prison overcrowding. According to data from the National Prison Information Survey (Infopen), the number of prisoners in Maranhão increased by 32% between December 2014 and June 2016.
The resolution by the Court goes a step further: the State Court and the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Maranhão must submit, within the same period, independent reports with data on every person who has died in Pedrinhas, whether due to natural causes or violence, since January of 2015.
The justification for this is to analyze why the investigations into the deaths that occur at the prison facilities are always shelved.
“This is a clear message to the Brazilian government that the Inter-American Court will no longer tolerate excuses with regard to the situation in Pedrinhas, where it is currently impossible for a person to serve their sentence while having their rights guaranteed,” explained Henrique Apolinário, a lawyer for the Institutional Violence program at Conectas.
“The Inter-American Court also identified, in the case of Pedrinhas, the inaction of the Maranhão State Court and Public Prosecutor’s Office in the performance of their respective duties, namely the obligation to inspect the prisons and investigate government agents accused of torturing prisoners. If these institutions functioned like they should, it would not have been necessary to reach out to an international body to check on this type of situation,” concluded Apolinário.
Reports published by civil society organizations that have conducted inspections at Pedrinhas since the case was first taken to the OAS, such as the Maranhão Society of Human Rights, Conectas and Justiça Global, as well as the National Mechanism to Combat and Prevent Torture – a body that reports to the Ministry of Human Rights, demonstrate that the conditions at the prison facilities of Pedrinhas are perilous and that overcrowding has been increasing at an alarming rate.