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Beer and Barbecue Among Perks for Criminal Bosses in Bahia Prison

03/03/2015 - 08h46

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JULIANA COISSI
PATRICIA BRITTO
FROM SÃO PAULO

A barbecue amongst friends, with photographs and beer. The scene is a common one all over Brazil. What makes this case unusual is that the gathering took place in the Penitenciária Lemos Brito in Salvador, Bahia, one of Brazil's five worst prisons.

In another photo, a prisoner poses with a running machine and an exercise bike. These are privileges of the "frentes" - criminal bosses who run sections of the prison. Some cells also have food processors and fans.

The photos, which were found by prison staff on cellular phones seized last year, show how the "frentes" enjoy luxuries which would be unthinkable in other prisons and even elsewhere in Lemos Brito. There are 1315 men currently doing time in Lemos Brito; the official capacity is just 771.

Prostitution is also common, according to Reivon Sousa Pimentel, president of the Bahia Prison Staff Union (Sinspeb, in its Portuguese acronym).

As the only woman permitted to make conjugal visits are the wives of prisoners, low-ranking criminals sell the names of their wives to the bosses. Prostitutes then enter the prison under the assumed names, and once inside, they switch the husband for the real client.

According to Pimentel, food and drink such as soda, chicken, beans and beef enters the prison freely. It is then sold by the prisoners at improvised stalls.

"Even trucks can enter the prison without being searched", says Pimentel, who suggests that the prison management turns a blind eye to such practices in order to prevent riots. The state government of Bahia would not comment on this accusation.

The State Public Prosecutor's Office has ordered a civil inquiry into the conditions at the prison. This is likely to result in a civil public action that, in a worst-case scenario, could result in its closure.

The Bahia state government says that Lemos Brito has been undergoing reform and that the complex is to expand into two new buildings, with the construction work nearly complete.

THE OTHER SIDE

The government also argues that the prison situation in Bahia "is much better than in the other states" and that it is planning to transfer men currently held in police stations to the newly expanded prisons.

"The accusations have been exaggerated a little," the government said in response to the reports of privileges for criminal bosses inside the prisons. However, it would not specify which details had been exaggerated.

The government did recognize that objects are thrown inside the prison from outside, and says that it is building high steel fences in order to combat the problem. It is also considering building walls elsewhere in the complex.

Translated by TOM GATEHOUSE

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