Mystery disease “eating prisoners alive” in Roraima jail

. Jan 20, 2020
jail bacteria prisoners.jpg "Skin-eating" bacteria found in Brazilian jail. Photo: Personal archive

A mysterious skin disease is reportedly “eating inmates alive” inside the largest jail in Roraima, Brazil’s poorest state. Twenty-four prisoners from the Agricultural Penitentiary of Monte Cristo (PAMC) have been taken to the Roraima General Hospital in the state capital of Boa Vista, presenting symptoms such as swelling, severe rashes, discolorations in the skin, and inability to walk.

Conditions are so desperate that

only ten of the men have actually been hospitalized, with the remaining 14 left untreated in the medical facility&#8217;s corridors. Five of those under treatment are suffering from tuberculosis, while one has scabies. Those who are receiving antibiotics are reportedly responding well.</p> <p>Hélio Abozaglo, of the Human Rights Committee of the Roraima chapter of the Brazilian Bar Association, has been <a href=",1115583/oab-denuncia-contaminacao-detentos-bacteria-desconhecida-em-roraima.shtml">monitoring</a> the situation closely and has called on federal and international entities to step in. &#8220;It&#8217;s depressing, one of the inmates had a raw flesh wound on his foot and said he felt like something was eating him from the inside,&#8221; he told news website <em>G1</em>.</p> <p>While the actual cause of the mysterious bacteria is not yet known, its spreading has been put down to the chronic overcrowding within PAMC. The penitentiary is currently well above capacity, and the latest figures indicate that there is an average of 15 inmates per 6 square-meter cell, often sharing one bar of soap between them. There have also been reports of open sewers around the jail facilities, making the dissemination of diseases even more rampant.</p> <p>Mr. Abozaglo mentioned that some inmates spoke of drinking contaminated water not long before the symptoms appeared, which could be a potential source of the infection.</p> <h2>Not the first time</h2> <p>Conditions inside PAMC are threadbare, with no medical assistance provided to its over 2,200 inmates. In August of last year, 18 prisoners were taken to the Roraima General Hospital with cases of tuberculosis, scabies, and aggressive boils.</p> <p>The penitentiary has been visited semi-regularly by a Penitentiary Intervention Task-Force, a mechanism set up by the Justice Ministry in 2017 to help manage crises in Brazil&#8217;s most precarious jails. PAMC has been subject to intervention ever since 33 people were killed in a gang-related massacre in January 2017.</p> <h2>The abhorrent conditions of Brazil&#8217;s jail system</h2> <p>Overcrowding is a recurring problem throughout Brazil&#8217;s prison system. A study from the Public Prosecution Service, published in August last year, shows that the country has a total of 729,949 inmates crammed into prisons which can only fit 437,912 people—an overcrowding rate of 166 percent.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1486378"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>In the North of Brazil—where Roraima is situated—the <a href="">conditions are even worse</a>, with twice as many prisoners than there are places.</p> <p>Speaking to <strong>The Brazilian Report&#8217;s </strong><a href=""><em>Explaining Brazil </em>podcast</a> in July of last year, co-founder of the Igarapé Institute Robert Muggah stated that inmates of Brazilian prisons &#8220;are 30 times more likely to contract tuberculosis, 10 times more likely to be infected by HIV/Aids, [and] four times more likely to be killed as a result of homicide.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2012, former Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo proclaimed that he would <a href="">rather die than spend an evening</a> in a Brazilian penitentiary.

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