How Brasília “celebrity prison” became a coronavirus hotbed

. Jun 23, 2020
papuda prison coronavirus Cell inside the Papuda prison, in Brasília. Photo: DEPEN

Famous in Brazil for housing inmates convicted of million-dollar fraud as part of grand corruption investigations such as Operation Car Wash, the Papuda prison complex in the capital Brasilia is now the penitentiary with the most confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country. Alone, it has almost the same number of infected inmates and employees as all the other jails in the country put together.

Last Thursday, the number of those infected by the new coronavirus among Papuda’s prisoners and police officers reached 1,231 — of which 980 were inmates and 251 were employees. So far, two convicts and one prison guard have died as a result of Covid-19.

</p> <p>Throughout the country, 1,383 coronavirus infections have been recorded among <a href="">Brazil&#8217;s prison population</a>, according to the National Penitentiary Department. Of these, 741 inmates have already recovered, while 45 died. There are still 899 suspected cases under analysis. The government agency has not disclosed data on prison guards and other employees who may have been infected.</p> <p>In Papuda, most of the Covid-19 cases are among those aged between 20 and 29 years old, but 138 are senior citizens. The Brasilia municipal health authorities said 46 of the patients have comorbidities — diseases that may aggravate their condition.</p> <p>By the beginning of the pandemic, the full population of Papuda prison was around 16,000 people, among them inmates and employees.&nbsp; In an attempt to halt the spread of Covid-19 in the prison, courts granted almost 2,000 inmates the right to be placed under house arrest — all of these convicts had some form of comorbidity putting them at increased risk for Covid-19.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="613" src="" alt="army papuda" class="wp-image-43129" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1170w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Army officers carry out decontamination effort within the Papuda Prison. Photo: Army</figcaption></figure> <h2>Poor conditions in Brazil&#8217;s prison system</h2> <p>As is the case in all Brazilian prisons, Papuda is overcrowded and <a href="">conditions are poor within its cells</a>, with minimal ventilation and poor hygiene standards. Experts in law and public health have likened the coronavirus situation in Papuda jail to a biological time bomb.&nbsp;</p> <p>&#8220;The prison population is 30 times more likely to contract tuberculosis. They are people under the responsibility of the state. All deaths from coronavirus within prison institutions that could have been prevented and were not, are the responsibility of the authorities,&#8221; says Camila Prado, a professor at the Law School of the University of Brasília.</p> <script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>Silvia Souza, a lawyer with the Human Rights Committee of the Legislative Chamber of Brasília, is concerned about the lack of inputs for individual hygiene. &#8220;It is usually family members who bring personal hygiene items to the inmates. Visits were suspended, so a lot were left without these products,&#8221; she says.</p> <p>The prison administration said that ever since the first cases of coronavirus contamination were identified in the facility, a <a href="">series of measures were put in place</a> to protect employees and carry out the state&#8217;s responsibility to ensure the well-being of prisoners. It also stated that all inmates are offered basic hygiene products, such as soap and toothpaste.</p> <p>Due to the large number of cases, a field hospital was set up alongside the Papuda prison, exclusively for the treatment of inmates. Prison guards and employees were offered hotel rooms, paid for by the government, so that they do not need to sleep at home and can avoid the contamination of relatives, friends, and neighbors.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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