Carandiru Penitentiary


Carandiru Penitentiary, also known as Casa de Detencao, was a penal facility situated in São Paulo, Brazil. It was designed and built by Samuel das Neves in 1920 and at the time, it was considered to be the ‘ideal’ prison in Brazil, meeting the new demands of the 1890 Brazilian criminal code perfectly.

Carandiru was opened in 1956, and quickly received an influx of convicts. The population continued to rise, and at its peak, the prison was holding up to 8,000 inmates.

Poor conditions

Carandiru quickly became renowned for its severe overcrowding issues and poor conditions. During the time when 8,000 inmates resided in the facility, there were only 1000 guards who tried unsuccessfully to maintain control and order. Eventually, the gangs inside the prison took over control of the cell blocks, and the guards and medical staff became reluctant to enter. This meant that inmates medical conditions were left untreated, and many died from infections which could have been cured with a simple dose of antibiotics. Malnutrition and starvation was also commonplace within the walls at Carandiru, and many experts suspect that the gangs were selling food to fellow inmates, causing them to starve if they had no money.

Carandiru Penitentiary

A severe AIDS epidemic ran through the prison, and in 1989, Brazilian physician Drauzio Varella volunteered to work there unpaid in an attempt to address it. He spent 12 years as a physician at Carandiru, and wrote a book entitled Estação Carandiru (Carandiru Station) which described his experiences during that time. The book described in detail the horrors which were commonplace in the prison, and the inhumane conditions in which the inmates were forced to live for years. The book became a Brazilian best seller, and was quickly turned into the film Carandiru.

The Carandiru Massacre

The Carandiru Massacre took place on 2 October 1992, when the military police stormed the building following reports of a prison riot. During the riot, the police made very little effort to negotiate with the unruly prisoners, who could no longer tolerate the dire conditions in which they were forced to live.

The Polícia Militar do Estado de São Paulo were called by the police, who entered the prison and shot and killed over a hundred prisoners. A total of 111 prisoners died that day, 102 from military police gunshots, and nine from stab wounds, which allegedly occurred during the initial riot. Survivors claim that they witnessed the military police fire at inmates who had already surrendered, or were hiding in their cells.

Carandiru Massacre

Once the news of the massacre hit the public, an uproar occurred, in both Brazil and the rest of the world. The incident was (and remains to be) considered to be one of the worst civil rights violations in the history of Brazil, and led to the inevitable trials of the commanding officer of the operation and 53 of his officers. Colonel Ubiratan Guimarães, the commanding officer was sentenced to 632 years in prison at his trial. However, this was overturned after several mistrials as he was “only following orders” and he was set free in 2006, only to be assassinated that same year.

The trials for the other officers began in April 2013, when 23 policemen were each sentenced to 156 years in prison for their role in the massacre. Later that year in August, a further 25 officers were sentenced to 624 years imprisonment each for the deaths of 52 inmates. The latest trial to be held was in April 2014, when another 15 officers were sentenced to 48 years each for their role in the bloodiest massacre to take place in a Brazilian prison.


As a result of the massacre, and increasingly bad publicity, the prison was closed in 2002 and demolished. One block was left remaining, and is now used as a museum which is open to the public. On the rest of the former prison site lays the Parque da Juventude.

Carandiru Demolition

It is also reported that one of Brazil’s most notorious gangs, Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) was formed as a direct response to the treatment the inmates received during the massacre. They also claim the responsibility for the death of prison director José Ismael Pedrosa.

Brazilian Prison Statistics

According to country’s Penitentiary Department at the Ministry of Justice, Brazil’s prison population has more than doubled over the past 10 years – from 233,000 in 2000 to 513,802 in June 2011 – and continues to rise.

Despite massive investment by the federal government of around half a billion dollars between 2003 and 2009, prison building has not kept pace with the increasing number of detainees.

By the end of 2012, there was a shortfall of 200,000 places in prisons across the country, which led to severe overcrowding and inhumane living conditions.
*Source: Amnesty International

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