S ocial media was quick to respond when Brayan Bremer, one of the 72 inmates who broke out from Antonio Trindade jail in Brazil on Sunday, posted selfies boasting of his escape. Images popped up on Facebook and Twitter of his face overlaid on pictures of fictional prison escapees such as Andy Dufresne of The Shawshank Redemption and Michael Scofield of Prison Break.
Yet, unlike his fictitious counterparts, Brayan Bremer’s escape was not the result of careful planning and tremendous willpower. Instead, it was the consequence of a massively overburdened prison system pushed beyond its limits.
The Antonio Trindade jailbreak was followed by another just across town, where 112 prisoners escaped and 56 people were killed. The Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Centre was built to house 454 inmates, but was home to 1224 prisoners when the breakout occurred.
And overcrowding is far from the only problem. Many jails are effectively run by drug-trafficking gangs. The problem in the Manaus prisons revolved around “cocaine dealing from Peru”, Paulo Storani, an anthropologist and former special operations police officer, told The World Weekly. One gang, the Family of the North, appears to have been behind the killings.
The national authorities appear to exert little control. According to Brazilian media reports, the federal government was aware of the mass breakout plans but still failed to stop them. The National Council of Justice revealed that 65% of prisons are not equipped with metal detectors or mobile phone signal blockers, enabling inmates to coordinate rebellions and attacks on rival gangs from inside the jails.
Valdir João Silveira, national coordinator of Pastoral Carcerária, a pastoral initiative by the Catholic Church working in the prison system, told BBC Brazil: “It’s a torture factory that produces violence and raises monsters."