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Reforming São Paulo's prison system: tackle the cause not the symptom

'Short term responses to this unprecedented display of prisoner power will not prevent further incidents. Ill-considered and quick-fix solutions could aggravate the extreme crisis,' the organisation added.

So far, the authorities have consistently failed to invest in a penal service capable of dealing with the strains of an ever growing prison population. Inhuman overcrowding and inadequate staffing with demoralised, ill-trained and underpaid guards have created a power vacuum in many institutions, which was often filled by the prisoners.

The Primerio Comando da Capital (PPC), Capital First Command, a prison criminal gang accused of causing the weekend rebellion, is itself a product of the failings of the system. Measures to tackle the situation must not be solely targeted at these criminal organisations, but must confront the long standing institutional neglect that has led to this crisis.

Amnesty International recognises the efforts of Dr Nagashi Furukawa, recently appointed State Secretary for Penal Administration, to improve São Paulo's penal system. However, state and federal level support is essential if comprehensive and effective reform is to be achieved.

'It is now time for all the relevant authorities to overhaul the whole the prison system in São Paulo, which could serve as a model for other Brazilian states,' Amnesty International urged.

The involvement of human rights defenders and politicians in negotiations appears to have played a crucial role in avoiding violent confrontation in the recent disturbances. The continued role of these groups and individuals, including the Pastoral Carcerária, Catholic Prisons Ministry, will be essential to finding solutions both to the immediate and long-term crisis.


The prison rebellion began in Carandiru prison on Sunday 18 February 2001 during visiting hours and led to coordinated protests by inmates in over 25 prisons in the state. As a result, thousands of visiting relatives were held hostage. The rebellion ended on 19 February after prolonged negotiations. At least 16 inmates were killed, the majority reportedly by other prisoners, during the disturbances.

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