HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH PRISON PROJECT
PRISONS IN BRAZIL (cont'd)
The São Paulo daily Folha de S. Paulo reported eighty rebellions in precincts and eleven more in penitentiaries in the state in the first six months of 1997, up from seventy-one rebellions in precincts and eight in penitentiaries in all of 1996. By early October the number of prison riots had risen to fifteen. In September, São Paulo authorities announced the signing of contracts to build seven prisons with a total capacity for 5,544 detainees. If completed on schedule, along with the planned construction of fourteen more prisons, these detention centers would provide space for an additional 17,520 prisoners by the end of 1998.
To their credit, São Paulo authorities refrained from using deadly force to control prison and precinct rebellions. This was not always the case, however, in all of Brazil. On July 29, 1997, military police entered the Róger penitentiary in João Pessoa, Paraíba, to end a prison riot in which a group of prisoners had seized the warden, three guards, and two fellow prisoners as hostages. Subsequent medical examinations demonstrated that seven of the eight prisoners killed had been severely beaten and likely tortured and then summarily executed, a conclusion that the state governor himself accepted. Two months later, military police responded to another rebellion in the same facility killing one detainee. Investigations by the João Pessoa municipal human rights commission showed that the prisoners were armed with sticks and that the police response was, at a minimum, disproportionate. In October 1997, two more prisoners in that prison were killed during an escape attempt.
The problem of prison and police precinct overcrowding was exacerbated in 1997 by the existence of prisoners held in these detention facilities beyond the terms of their sentences. In September, ad hoc investigatory commissions composed of members of the State Bar Association, the State Attorney General's Office and representatives of the State Legislative Assembly documented irregularities observed during surprise visits in the state of São Paulo. For example, the ad hoc commissions found several detainees held beyond the terms of their sentences, scores of others eligible for parole or early or day release programs, as well as one case of a detainee held for more than two years based on a provision which allows thirty-day renewable detention periods.