Hell’s End

     Hell's End

    “We are shutting down what can only be described
    as an inferno. It has been a breeding ground of
    lawlessness, organized crime groups and corruption.”

    Elma-Lia Nascimento

    Carandiru is no more. Carandiru became synonymous with unbridled state human right abuse,
    after 1992, when 111 inmates of that São Paulo
    prison were massacred by the military police that
    were called to quell a riot. Ten years later, there
    were music, clapping, and white balloons while the
    last prisoner left the place.

    During its 46-year existence the Casa de
    Detenção (Detention House) Carandiru housed 170,000
    men. Open on September 11, 1956, by governor
    Jânio Quadros, who would be become Brazil’s president
    in 1961, the penitentiary was designed to
    accommodate 3250 alleged criminals who were still waiting for final judgment. During the
    ’80s, however, it became grossly overcrowded with 8000 all kinds of prisoners at a
    time—even the most dangerous—and a population of 170,000 men over the years. In
    2001, 100 prisoners escaped from Carandiru through a tunnel they built.

    At the ceremony marking the closing of the prison, São Paulo state
    governor Geraldo Alckmin didn’t shed any tears for the coming tear down of Latin
    America’s largest jail: “It did not offer security, it was condemned on health grounds and there
    was no rehabilitation of inmates. The model was backwards.”

    Carandiru became again the center of world attention just last year when the leaders of a prison gang known
    as ComandoVermelho, using cell phones, led from there a massive 27-hour rebellion involving 29 prisons from the
    São Paulo jail system. The riot, which took place on a Sunday when inmates were being visited, involved 30,000
    prisoners and 7,000 visitors—including many children—who were taken as hostages. There was no blood bath this time,
    but the authorities decided to heed the warning: the prison’s situation was untenable.

    Nagashi Furukawa, head of the State Prison Administration Department, recognized that his office had lost
    control over the penitentiary: “We are shutting down what can only be described as an inferno. It has been a breeding
    ground of lawlessness, organized crime groups and corruption where guards have no control over the inmates and
    where rehabilitation is all but impossible.”

    The prisoners were sent around the state to 11 new jails recently built at a cost of $40 million. State
    authorities intend to use the space left after the demolition of the old prison to build a youth park with recreational and
    educational facilities.

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