While the levels of prison riots did diminish for a time, from 33 in 2001 to zero in 2003 in São Paulo, it is not clear that this is only due to the introduction of these punishment systems, especially as in 2004 the number of riots rose again to four and continued to occur in 2005 (see below). Amnesty International has also received reports of people being detained in solitary confinement for periods much longer than the stipulated 365 days, and also of detainees being sent to maximum security prisons with RDD systems prior to having been in the prison system, thus having committed no infraction within the system.
In July 2004, an Amnesty International delegation accompanied by local human rights groups visited the RDE unit at Hortolandia, in the state of São Paulo. There, detainees were handcuffed upon any contact with a guard. The removal of one detainee from a cell meant the prior handcuffing of all those in the cell. Detainees waiting to be seen by medical staff had their hands cuffed behind their backs for several hours, contrary to international standards. Many detainees complained to Amnesty International that the imposition of RDE on prisoners was arbitrary; when challenged, the prison director was unable to inform delegates what legal protection or appeals system detainees had against such punishments.
Prison riots and deaths in custody
Violent riots do still occur within the prison system. In May 2004, 30 detainees were killed during conflict between rival drug factions in the Benfica detention centre. This followed a poorly planned attempt by the authorities to end the separation of rival factions in the prison.
Similarly, in June 2005, during a riot in Zwinglio Ferreira detention centre in Presidente Venceslau, São Paulo state, five detainees were beheaded by other prisoners from opposing prison gangs. Images of the decapitated heads were displayed in the national media, further feeding public fears about the uncontrollability of Brazil’s prison system.
Amnesty International has received consistent reports of torture, ill-treatment, deaths in custody, riots, corruption and of cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions in the prison system of Espírito Santo and the prison of Urso Branco in the state of Rondônia. Due to extreme levels of violence within these prison systems, guard duties have been taken up by armed military police officers, contrary to the Law of Penal Executions which prohibits the use of armed guards within a prison.
As a result of the numerous cases of prisoner on prisoner killings and consistent reports of torture and ill-treatment in the Urso Branco prison since January 2002, the Inter-American Commission and later the Inter-American Court requested the government implement cautionary measures to ensure the protection of those under the state’s care. According to reports from local human rights groups and members of the Catholic Church, federal funds sent to improve conditions in the prison and to build other prisons, were not properly monitored by the state or federal authorities.
Protection of Children and Adolescents (Paragraphs 185-202 of the State report)
Amnesty International has received persistent reports of poor conditions, torture and ill-treatment in juvenile detention centres around the country. Of particular concern, though, has been the FEBEM juvenile detention system in São Paulo which Amnesty International has been documenting and denouncing for some time.
In February 2003, a FEBEM director described the situation in São Paulo’s juvenile detention system as follows: “employees are letting the place fall to pieces to see how long we can hold on for. They provoke arguments between detainees, promote those among them who exercise negative leadership, facilitate escapes and incite riots. They open the cells and run away. By maintaining a climate of instability they justify repression”.
If the juvenile justice system in São Paulo is taken as an example of how the Brazilian state is dealing with “adolescents at risk” who are in state custody, there is cause for serious concern. The state authorities have failed to provide the minimum proposed socio-educational measures heralded by the Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente (ECA), statute of the child and adolescent, for many if not most FEBEM detainees. Torture and ill-treatment in juvenile detention centres in the state, which hold 6000 children and adolescents, are widespread and systematic. Between January 2001 and July 2005, 269 investigations into incidents of torture were passed onto the police by the state public prosecutor’s office. Seventeen separate criminal proceedings have been brought against 227 FEBEM monitores (monitors). Out of these, 17 monitores have been convicted at first instance, while according to latest reports others await trial.
Attempts to tackle human rights violations in the FEBEM have largely failed, and this year, after a failed attempt by the FEBEM president to root out and punish corrupt employees, there were large scale disturbances, resulting in numerous riots, many reportedly instigated by FEBEM staff, which saw the destruction of several FEBEM units, deaths of detainees and the transfer of juveniles into the adult prison system. The president of the FEBEM, who led the crackdown against corrupt and violent monitores has subsequently resigned, and human rights groups have reported a recent increase in repressive treatment of adolescents, through the use of collective punishment, torture and beatings.