An aggressive campaign against crime, a crackdown on criminals and a program to put them behind bars, along with the rapid construction of new, more secure prisons.
All of these things contributed to the recent uprising of criminal groups in the state of São Paulo, in the Brazilian Southeast, says Paulo Mesquita, a political scientist at the University of São Paulo’s Center for the Study of Violence (Núcleo de Estudos da Violência da Universidade de São Paulo) (USP).
"With all these things going on it is difficult to maintain control of penitentiaries. You do not have time to train new directors and prison agents. You also do not have time to deal with the historical problems of prison violence, corruption and overcrowding," says Mesquita.
What happens under these circumstances is that groups inside the penitentiaries get "slices of power." When you disturb these people, which is what happened when São Paulo authorities decided to transfer inmate leaders to maximum security prisons last week, you get a reaction. The reaction this time was much more violent than ever before, explains Mesquita.
The right way to deal with this in the short-term, Mesquita goes on, is to punish those responsible for the violence. "The punishment of those who ordered the assassinations of policemen and the prison rebellions is absolutely necessary."
In the long-term the states and the federal government have to work together to reform and improve the penitentiary system, says Mesquita.
"It is very important not to exploit this politically. Avoid a conflict between the state and the federal governments…. And it is essential for civil society to be involved in finding solutions. That is the only way to make progress in dealing with the underlying problems that cause these rebellions."
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