By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter

BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – The Minister of Justice in Brazil, José Eduardo Cardozo, reportedly told businessmen in São Paulo that he would “rather die” than spend time in the Brazilian penitentiary system. “From the bottom of my heart, if I were given many years in some of our prisons, I would rather die,” said the minister, calling conditions in Brazilian prisons as “mediaeval.”

Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo said Tuesday he would “rather die” than spend years in a Brazilian prison, photo by Valter Campanato/ABr.

Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF) Minister Gilmar Mendes also condemned prison conditions in Brazil, which are notoriously bad, with severe overcrowding, poor hygiene conditions and widespread gang membership.

Mendes called on the government to end overcrowding of prisons and the practice of holding those awaiting trial in makeshift cells in police stations.

“We have hell in prisons. We have 70,000 prisoners, at least, illegally detained in police stations,” Mendes reportedly said. “We had cases of prisoners in Pará who were starving.”

STF Justice Celso de Mello went on to say that the state should stand by Cardozo’s comments as a call to arms to restore the dignity of prisoners “abandoned to their fate by absolute irresponsibility of government.”

“We think it is important that the Minister of Justice has made this observation in a very frank, candid, honest way,” he said. “Now we need the government … to act.”

Last November, Brazil’s Justice Department drew ire for terminating 29 contracts signed to build desperately needed prisons. According to data from the Ministry of Justice, last year there were 471,000 inmates nationwide, but only 295,000 vacancies in the prison system, and data from the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, shows that 37 percent Brazilian of prisoners are awaiting trial, Folha reported.

Gang membership is common in Brazil’s prisons; including the First Capital Command (Primeiro Capital Command, PCC), a powerful gang with influence throughout São Paulo state are thought to be responsible for orchestrating targeted violence outside jail, including some 200 deaths in 2006 and the wave of violent crime currently sweeping São Paulo.

Read more (in Portuguese).

* The Rio Times Daily Updates feature is offered to help keep you up-to-date with important news as it happens.


  1. Easy easy with the prison system in Brazil ! I am a prison visitor since 24 years all around the continents and I can testify that the prison system in Rio as close as I know it since I live in front of the gates since 6 years, is far from reflecting your critics. Even the ones issued from the minister of Justice in person. Violence inside dont exist and in Rio the population of prisoners are well treated, they eat well and they got two hospitals, one sanatorium and all the care as more than free ones.
    The condition of detention of women are excellent compared to France or US. There is a nursery, a wide open patio surrended by gardens and the living is easy. Most women work for extras and a salary they get in full when they regain freedom. Lets not forget they are criminals and mules for the majority. I really dont understand how and where your reporter saw the horrors she describes , if it were true , I`d be there to visit these starving prisoners and worse as you described hell in heaven ! .. I am sorry, I dont buy a single word you wrote, Its not true .


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