Brazil jails: Hundreds of inmates use Christmas release to escape

Picture of three inmates from Rio de Janeiro.
Image caption,Davi de Carvalho (left), failed to return after he left to celebrate Brazil’s national Children’s Day in October last year. Saulo Cristiano Oliveira Dias (middle) and Paulo Sérgio Gomes da Silva (right) are among those who failed to return in December following their Christmas break.

By Sofia Ferreira Santos & Leonardo Rocha

BBC News

Police in Rio de Janeiro are searching for more than 250 prisoners who failed to return to jail after being allowed to spend Christmas with their families.

The inmates had been released on Christmas Eve, and were expected to report back by 22:00 local time on 30 December.

While most of the 1,785 prisoners granted leave returned to jail, more than 250 did not.

Those who failed to report back are now considered fugitives.

Local media say that among those who absconded are at least two infamous gang leaders.

Under Brazilian law, some prisoners are allowed to spend the most important public holidays at home.

To be eligible for temporary leave, inmates need to have demonstrated good behaviour, meet certain criteria and have their application approved by a judge.

These criteria include being in a penitentiary operating a “semi-open regime”, where prisoners are allowed to work outside the prison during the day, only having to return to their cells in the evening.

To be able to apply, first-time offenders must also have served one-sixth of their sentence, and repeat offenders a quarter of theirs.

The current rules, which allow for these kind of temporary releases over Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day and other holidays, are controversial as it is not uncommon for prisoners to disappear for good.

In 2022, 43% of those granted the leave did not return to jail, according to the Rio de Janeiro state penitentiary department.

Brazil’s Congress is under pressure to pass a new bill that tightens the current rules on allowing prisoners to spend time at home.

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