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Tuesday, 15 December, 1998, 12:18 GMT
Inside Latin America's worst prison
Carandiru jail
Police killed 100 inmates at the jail six years ago
In a BBC exclusive, Stephen Cviic reports from inside Latin America's biggest and most notorious jail

Carandiru jail in Sao Paulo Brazil, holds more than 7,000 prisoners in a space designed for just half that number.

In October 1992, it was the scene of Brazil's worst prison massacre. Police were sent in to stop a rebellion, and shot dead more than 100 inmates.

Six years may have passed, but - as we found on our visit - conditions for many inmates remain bleak, some would say inhuman.

In the health wing almost one in five of the prisoners are HIV-positive.

Medical unit
The medical unit has been described as inhumane
Getting proper treatment here is difficult. Gilberto Fernandes was wounded during an armed robbery, and during his time in another jail received eight temporary pins in his leg. But once he arrived in Carandiru, getting them removed proved to be an epic struggle lasting more than three years.

He says: "I have a list here of the number of times I was supposed to go for treatment, but didn't. On several occasions, there was no police car to take me to hospital. Sometimes, when I did get there, the doctor told me: 'you can't have anaesthetic; prisoners don't deserve anaesthetic.'"

This is a violent prison, and many men are wounded in fights, but medical attention is barely rudimentary.

Religious support

It is hard to see what threat these men pose to society. For many inmates, the only organisation they can turn to for help is the Roman Catholic Church.

Gaunt Prisoner
Prisoners have little hope of medical treatment
Father Gunter Zgubic, who visits the jail regularly, says: "The system is wrong, and also the doctors working here don't have the minimum engagement necessary. The medical director, I was informed by different sides, for years never entered here, even though he is the most responsible. You can see the corruption in this system."

Too many to control

Like most Brazilian jails, Carandiru suffers from chronic overcrowding. Many prisoners in this wing have had death threats made against them by other inmates - they are trapped. The director of Carandiru is frank about his inability to administer the jail properly.

House of Detention Director Walter Erwin Hoffgen says: "Of course I don't have control of the situation. It would be ridiculous to say I did. The prison has 7,500 inmates and only about 1,000 prison officers, divided into four shifts."

Overcrowding is a serious problem
There are 28 prisoners for every guard on shift
It may be hard to believe, but for most ordinary Brazilians outside these walls, the appalling conditions here won't come as a shock.

The problem is that public opinion has always been lukewarm about improving conditions for prisoners. The authorities, however, say they are committed to making things better.

Hope for the prisoners

Prisons in Brazil are run at state level. In Sao Paulo, plans are afoot to close Carandiru jail by the middle of next year. It is part of a wider prison-building programme.

Sao Paulo's Assistant Prison Secretary, Claudio Tucci, says: "This government is currently investing about $200m in new prisons. We're building a total of 21 new jails throughout the state."

And even inside Carandiru, there are signs of hope. The number of cases of torture has fallen. Hundreds of prisoners have found consolation in religion, with evangelical protestant groups particularly strong.

Over the years, Carandiru has developed its own rules, its own slang and its own culture. Some prisoners even say they are reluctant to move.

It is hard to feel much nostalgia for a place which has been the scene of so much suffering. The question is whether the brutality and negligence which have been so present here will continue to be the hallmark of jails throughout Brazil.

Stephen Cviic reports from inside Carandiru jail
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