By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The total number of people incarcerated in Brazil reached 726,712 in June 2016, the third largest prison population in the world, only behind the United States and China, according to a study released by Brazil’s Ministry of Justice. According to the report, however, the number of prison beds has not increased in the same proportion.

Brazil,Overcrowded conditions in prisons in Brazil are notorious,
Overcrowded conditions in prisons in Brazil are notorious, photo by Antonio Cruz/Agencia Brasil.

“What we have is an increase in the prison population and, practically, a stability regarding the supply of vacancies and the number of prisons,” stated Jefferson de Almeida, general director of the National Penitentiary Department (Depen) at the Ministry of Justice, on Friday during a press conference for the release of the report.

According to government officials 89 percent of the country’s prison population are housed in overcrowded units. Comparing data from December 2014 to June 2016, the vacancy deficit rose from 250,318 to 358,663.

“Squeezing so many people into cells facilitates the spread of disease and makes it impossible for prison guards to keep control inside prisons. It is a ‘gift’ to criminal factions, which offer “protection” to prisoners when the authorities do not,” says César Muñoz, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch Brasil.

The Ministry’s report shows that forty percent of people currently in Brazilian jails are provisional prisoners, who have not yet been convicted or even tried. According to Muñoz some people wait years to be brought in front of a judge for a hearing. “Incarcerating more and more people, often in conditions that violate the most basic human rights and the risk of recruitment by factions, is not a just or smart policy,” concludes the researcher.

Also revealed in the study is the fact that more than half of Brazil’s prison population between the ages of 18 and 29, 64 percent are black, and 28 percent are in prison for crimes linked to drug trafficking.

According to Rafael Custódio, one of the coordinators for human rights group, Conectas, “The profile of the Brazilian prison population shows the selectivity of prisons in Brazil, mostly black, poor and involved in crimes, such as drug trafficking, that could be treated with alternative measures to prison.”

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