BRASILIA • Brazil aims to build nearly 30 prisons over the next year to ease chronic overcrowding in its penitentiary system as part of a package of emergency measures to tackle a wave of deadly prison riots, according to President Michel Temer.
In an interview with Reuters, Mr Temer said Brazil's federal government would build five maximum security prisons to house the most violent convicts, often members of rival drug gangs whose turf war has plunged the prison system into crisis over the past two weeks.
At least 140 inmates have been killed since the start of the year in riots at poorly staffed prisons run by cash-strapped state governments. Many of those killed had their heads cut off and were badly mutilated or burned.
Brazil's penitentiary system, the fourth largest in the world, is home to more than 620,000 convicts and is running more than 50 per cent over capacity. Almost all of its 1,400 jails are run by state governments.
But four federal maximum security prisons - which have not seen rioting - are close to overflowing as more and more convicts are being sent from state prisons following the riots.
As part of a package of measures worth more than 1 billion real (S$439 million), Mr Temer said state governments, in partnership with the federal government, will also build an additional 25 prisons to reduce overcrowding.
Cost of emergency measures to deal with prison violence.
Number of inmates killed in riots since the start of the year.
Number of convicts housed in Brazil's penitentiary system, the fourth largest in the world.
Number of jails, almost all run by state governments.
And the President wants them sooner than the two or three years conventional construction would take. "By using prefabricated buildings - which has already been done in Espirito Santo state - perhaps we can build all of these prisons in one year," he said.
Brazil's prisons are largely controlled by gangs, with the authorities admitting that drugs, guns and all manner of contraband enter the prisons regularly. Jailed gang leaders run their criminal networks by mobile phone from their cells.
This year's intense violence is the result of a split between Brazil's most powerful drug gang, the First Capital Command (PCC), and its main rival, the Red Command.
For more than two decades, the two gangs maintained an uneasy working relationship, ensuring that a steady flow of drugs and arms easily made its way over Brazil's porous borders with the world's biggest cocaine-producing nations.
But about six months ago, security officials and experts say, PCC tried to push the Red Command out.
The latest violence came last weekend when PCC slaughtered 26 other inmates in a riot at Alcacuz prison in the state of Rio Grande do Norte. A new riot erupted there on Monday.
Mr Temer said the problem would not be solved by building alone.
He said his government would, in future, insist that non-violent criminals are separated from more dangerous ones to prevent them being recruited by organised crime.
With more than one-third of Brazil's prison population being held pending trial, Mr Temer said his government would also work to speed up their hearings to reduce overcrowding.