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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 20:48 GMT 21:48 UK
Brazil prisons 'a disaster'
Relatives and friends of Chinese-Brazilian businessman Chan Kim Chang, protest during his funeral on 5 September 2003
Chan's death has sparked a public outcry in Brazil

The Brazilian Justice Minister, Marcio Thomaz Bastos, has called for a complete reform of the country's prison system which he labelled a disaster.

The minister blamed the situation "on failures which had existed for decades" and a relaxation in the enforcement of laws, adding the system was saturated and there were numerous overcrowded prisons.

Mr Bastos comments follow a television broadcast on Sunday which showed inmates in a prison in Rio de Janeiro taking drugs and using mobile phones.

The high levels of overcrowding combined with low levels of staffing mean that the state authorities have in many cases lost control of many areas of the country's prisons, correspondents say.

The situation of the prison system is a disaster
Brazilian Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos
Under fire for the suspected beating death of a jailed Chinese man, Rio de Janeiro state authorities also acknowledged on Monday that torture was widespread in their police and prison system.

On Sunday, six prison guards suspected of torturing Chinese-Brazilian businessman Chan Kim Chang were arrested.

The 46-year-old man died after he was found unconscious with head injuries in a cell in the Ary Franco prison.

Military legacy

The head of the penitentiary administration in the Brazilian state, Asterio Pereira dos Santos, said torture tactics were the dark legacy of military dictatorship.

"We have only got out of a period of dictatorship a short time ago and we are trying to put an end to this practice. It's a hideous crime," he told reporters.

Human rights organisations such as Torture Never Again, which represent victims of military rule or their relatives, say many dictatorship-era torturers continue to work in law enforcement, which encourages the practice.

They also say the government is doing little to stop it.

Eighteen years have passed since the end of the military government that ruled Latin America's largest country from 1964 to 1985 with an iron hand.

Brazil jail guards arrested
07 Sep 03  |  Americas
Inmates die in Brazil crackdown
23 Jun 03  |  Americas
Brazil prison judge murdered
15 Mar 03  |  Americas
Brazil denies condoning torture
08 May 01  |  Americas
Prison gang with mobile phones
19 Feb 01  |  Americas

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