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Brazil's Prison Fire & Riot - 25 dead
& a consideration of the universality of prison issues.
25 prisoners have been reported killed in Brazil's latest prison unrest. They died in a fire which authorities say resulted from gang frictions in the Ponte Nova prison near Minas Gerais in the south west of the state, though other news sources claim the prisoners were in riot & had taken control of the prison at dawn. The prison built for 90 inmates (according to Globo Brazilian media & 70 according to Reuters) held 173 inmates. Many will know of the notoriety of the Brazilian penal system, recalling the Carandiru massacre in 1992 which led to military police killing 111 inmates in the prison of the same name. The current government which counts amongst its highest echelons individuals who served time in Brazilian prisons has been keen to convince onlookers that penal reform is a priority. Accordingly only last Monday the Federal government unveiled plans to build 160 new prisons as part of a wider strategy to stop gang violence.
Prisoners took control of the prison at dawn.
I've been awaiting an opportunity to raise the theme of penal reform, & this news offers both an opportunity to report on one of Brazil's most serious social ills as well as to cast an eye closer to home and appraise the efforts of the new Irish regime as much as new Irish opposition to properly deal with Ireland's penal institutional problems.
Brazil has long been recognised as having a grave problem with gang violence. The movie "City of God" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_God_%28film%29 )offers a snapshot of the longterm problems caused by slum housing & the few prospects held open to the inhabitants of the often but not always squalid "favela" of Brazil's largest cities. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favela
Whereas as many other Latin American states have found armed militia of a political nature in their midst, Brazil's dangers have never found nor needed political reasoning. As such, armed violence in Brazil has much in common with armed violence in Europe. For in truth, with a few exceptions our continent appears to have moved on from the pretensions and futilities of armed political campaigns.
I have over the summer found myself reading & in some cases re-reading a small corpus of penal related literature. I shall not bore readers with the complete list, but my consideration of the US federal prison system ranged from "the subterranean brotherhood" of J Hawthorne (a damning indictement of both the Atlanta federal peniteniary at the beginning of the 20th century & plausibly a book which lent inspiration to elements of the "shawshank redemption" movie in that Hawthorne's main & eloquently expressed rage was directed at the inhumanity inherent in any system which gives a prison guard "screw" or warden power over a fellow human)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Hawthorne to a much more recent essay by Jonathan Franzen on the "supermax" federal prison ADX Florence, Colorado which was built in 1983. ADX Florence has the dubious honour of holding the most dangerous prisoners the USA can muster (allbeit legally & leaving aside Guantanamo for the mo.). My impressions have been that little of true substance has changed in American handling of prisoners in nearly a century. The systems are still inhumane and focussed on retribution rather than rehabilitation. On the rightwing there are many who would argue that some criminals may never be rehabilitated having been forged of some material or dross or detritus of civilised values. Franzen in his essay recounts how the locals of ADX Florence lobbied long & hard to see the "supermax" built in their backyard in the mistaken belief that spin-off benefits would bring prosperity & celtic tiger like purring to their red neck yards. After all the walls were so thick & so high and the sound-proofing so good that in Florence nobody can hear you scream. Which is the modern way - the inmates hear zilch and see nothing but calm pastel walls. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADX_Florence Needless to say nothing of the sort occured. The private sector which plays such a great role in all US federal endeavours these days chose to bring in its own supplies of fried chicken wings, laundry services & vids for the screws & wardens. Of course these days prison guards still occupy the lowest most dispicable rank in the judicial system but their psychological training, professional preparation & career selection has ensured they are as devoid of sadists and psychopaths as your local Garda station or Airsoft shooting range.
Soon, whomever is left in the Irish Labour party will receive a notelet from party HQ in Ely Place that their vote is to be exercised in the election of a new leader to replace the dismally incapable Mr Rabitte. I suggest that penal reform, and the desirability of private commercial interest and the staff such companies would hire for any proposed new penal institution (prison) ought be considered. Yes, of course that will not catch middle class votes. Quite right, the Irish Labour vote would have more than flat-lined if Irish Labour had talked screws & securocracy before the last election. Yet in the heart of such miserably issues is the true pulse of our future social cohesion.
I apologise if this news piece verges on rhapsody & teases the hope of opinion or analysis. It's either early in the morning or late at night.
my last article (if you can call them that) on Irish penal policy -
the Carandiru massacre - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carandiru_Massacre
Brazil Prison deaths -
a new "supermax" for Scotland -
last link to Irish Penal Reform Trust