Public statement :: a tragedy foretold

Killings at the Anísio Jobim prison complex were predictable and could have been prevented, says Conectas

The killings of at least 56 people at COMPAJ (Anísio Jobim Prison Complex) and four more at UPP (Puraquequara Prison Facility) in the Amazonas state capital of Manaus, resulting from a conflict between rival gangs that began on Sunday, January 1, represents the most tragic illustration of the time bomb that is the Brazilian prison system. Conectas sympathizes with the families of the victims whose suffering is compounded by the lack of clear information on the facts and the identity of the deceased.

Exactly a year ago, a report released by MNPCT (National Mechanism to Combat and Prevent Torture, a body linked to the Ministry of Justice), after its visit to inspect the complex in December 2015, denounced the precarious conditions and the climate of tension that foreshadowed the tragedy that occurred this week.

According to the report, the complex held, at the time of the visit, 1,147 prisoners, 697 more than its capacity. The document highlighted the fact that COMPAJ is administered through a public contract and that its security guards are provided by a private company. According to MNPCT, this has resulted in insufficient training, job insecurity, high turnover and a shortage of security staff – only 153 were working on the day of the visit, instead of the 250 established in the contract. The report also informed that the limited interference of the guards and other prison staff, given the dominance of the gangs inside the facilities, had produced a climate of conflict and tension.

Brazil currently has the world’s fourth largest prison population, both in relative and absolute terms, with nearly 360,000 convicted prisoners and 240,000 pre-trial detainees – nearly 40% of the total. Of the convicted prisoners, approximately 27% are there for drug trafficking. Amazonas state stands above this national average: according to data from the Ministry of Justice’s Prison Information System (Infopen), 57% of the prisoners are pre-trial detainees and more than 50% are serving time for drug trafficking.

It is unacceptable that the authorities are incapable of guaranteeing the life and physical integrity of people in its custody and of providing dignified conditions for them to serve their sentences. The intentional mortality rate inside the Brazilian prison system is extremely high. According to the Ministry of Justice, a person who is imprisoned in Brazil is six times more likely to be killed than a person outside prison. The national average for intentional killings in the first half of 2014 inside the prison system was 8.6 for every 10,000 prisoners. Once again, Amazonas greatly exceeds this average, reporting a rate of 17.6 killings for every 10,000 prisoners in the same period.

As the figures above demonstrate, the violence in the country’s prisons reveals a distorted system. In this context, the rise of gangs is fueled by the degrading conditions in the prison facilities, by the problematic access to justice and, primarily, by the failed policy of the “War on Drugs”. Contrary to what the federal government is proposing, the investment of public funds in the construction of more prisons will not resolve the situation. Instead, Brazil needs to review its policy of mass incarceration.

Conectas is calling for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killings and for the perpetrators to be held accountable, for reparations to be made to the families of the deceased, for the identification of the responsibilities of the state agents who, through act or omission, permitted the massacre to take place, and for urgent measures from the government to put an end to the medieval situation in Brazilian prisons.

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