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Sunday, 15 September, 2002, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Brazil's 'worst prison' closes
Message reads: Peace, justice, freedom in Carandiru courtyard
Inmates have rioted many times over the years

Brazil's biggest prison - the scene of repeated uprisings and bloodshed - has been closed down.

San Paulo's Carandiru prison until recently housed more than 7,000 inmates - more than double its capacity.

Its closure has been welcomed by human rights groups, but there has also been some criticism of the decision because of over-crowding in other jails.

2001 riot
Prisoners felt as if they had nothing to lose
Carandiru prison, whose grey walls dominate one of Sao Paulo's suburbs, has a terrible history.

Ten years ago it was the scene of Brazil's worst jail massacre.

More than 100 prisoners were killed when the police stormed the jail after an uprising.

Survivors said the police killed prisoners after they had surrendered or while they were trying to hide in their cells.

The massacre led to prisoners forming their own organisation to fight for better conditions.

Called the First Commando of the Capital, this soon turned into one of the most powerful criminal gangs in the country.

Overcrowding

Two years ago Carandiru was again at the centre of Brazil's biggest-ever rebellion when leaders of the gang used mobile phones to organise coordinated uprisings in 27 jails across Sao Paulo state.

Mother at Carandiru jail
A mother outside Carandiru prays for her son inside the prison
They took thousands of visitors hostage, demanding better conditions.

At least 19 inmates died in the uprisings, with the gang taking the opportunity to murder rivals.

The authorities are closing Carandiru down because they say it is a symbol of all that has been wrong with Brazil's prison system.

Built for just over 3,000 prisoners 46 years ago, it came to house well over twice that number, with hardened criminals kept alongside minor offenders.

All the prisoners have now been moved to 11 new smaller jails.

Human rights groups have welcomed the closure of Carandiru.

But critics of the state government say the jail should have been kept open until over-crowding is resolved in other prisons.

See also:

19 Feb 01 | Americas
19 Dec 00 | Americas
17 Aug 00 | Americas
15 Jun 00 | Americas
15 Dec 98 | Americas
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