Decapitation Video Exposes Brazil's Prison Problems

October 20, 2016

The camera follows a man’s feet as he walks across a prison courtyard. His surroundings cannot be seen, nor can the faces of those present at the scene. The viewer sees only feet and small pools of water on a cement floor, until a pool of blood emerges at the top of the frame. The camera then pans upward to reveal the mangled bodies of three decapitated prisoners, heads and bodies askew, haphazardly scattered across the ground of the Pedrinhas Prison located in Maranhão, Brazil. The victims: Diego Michael Mendes Coelho, 21; Manoel Laercio Santos Ribeiro, 46; and Irismar Pereira, 34; are not the only ones that have recently lost their lives due to internal prison violence.This video, which was given to the newspaper Folha de São Paulo by a union of jail workers, exposes only one of many fatal incidents that occur within the walls of this prison each year.

Since last year, at least 62 prisoners have died at the Pedrinhas Prison, a jail that has already been under the government’s close watch. The state government of Maranhão withheld comments on the images. It has been confirmed that the deaths were results of internal gang violence that goes uncontrolled in the prison. Judge Douglas Martins visited the jail a few days after the decapitation to examine the conditions at the institute, culminating in a report that demands better control of the inmates. The judge also claimed violence is shown toward the female visitors. Gang leaders often rape the innocent female family members who forfeit their human rights in order to protect the lives of their imprisoned loved ones. The gangs seem to build rivalries based on where the prisoners have come from; those from the state’s capital of São Luis fight those from the interior of the state. In response to the decapitation, leaders of the internal gangs will be transferred to federal prisons. Additionally, the government sent military police to the prison in attempt to regulate the internal violence.

The prisoners at Pedrinhas have also still been allowed to wreak havoc in the country even from behind bars. Recent bus fires in São Luis were traced back to an order from within the prison to attack the city’s buses. As a result of these attacks, a six-year-old girl died after suffering from burns. Her family suffered as well, her mother was hospitalized and her grandmother died from a heart attack upon receiving information that her granddaughter had died. Uncontrolled prisoners are able to operate within the jail, continuing to commit crimes while serving their sentences.

Many of the problems that have been exposed at Pedrinhas also plague other Brazilian jails. For example, although the prison is built to hold a maximum of 1,770 prisoners, it currently holds 2,196. Overcrowding, gangs and internal violence are all issues present in other Brazilian and Latin American prisons as well. Without strict control murders, crimes and other violations of human rights will continue to affect those both within and outside of the prisons’ confinements.

About Author(s)

Madeline Townsend
Madeline is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is pursuing a degree in Spanish and Global Studies, with a focus on the Latin American region. She plans to present an honors thesis on visual representations of the internal conflict that occurred in Peru between 1980 and 2000. She also studies Portuguese and Film Studies as minors and works as one of the Panoramas interns.