At any time, the Butantã Penitentiary Progression Center (CPP) building could collapse, according to accusations made by women prisoners, family members and servants who work at the site. The women’s prison, located in the west zone of São Paulo, currently houses 763 women who are serving sentences in a semi-open regime.
Cracks, water leaks, unglued floors and a cracking structure are some of the characteristics of the prison unit verified by the Special Nucleus for Prison Situation of the Public Defender’s Office of São Paulo, in an inspection carried out on August 19 of this year. Defenders plead for the immediate interdiction of the unit.
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“We are scared to death. Sometimes everything shakes. And there are many women in one place. If this building collapses, everyone dies”, says Karina*, incarcerated at the CPP Butantã. “At 5 pm, it’s time for the locks. Then, just the next day (the cells are opened). If the building collapses at 5 pm, there’s no way out. There’s nowhere to escape,” he warns.
The CPP Butantã is composed of two large pavilions connected by the same structure, called the blue and yellow building. There is also the Mother House, which is the maternity ward, and a third building called Centro de Resocialização (CR). After the blue building’s water tank broke last month, it and the Motherhouse were decommissioned, and all the detainees were relocated to the yellow and CR buildings.
Nara* was one of the transferred women arrested. She claims that the measure does not mitigate the risk. “They [os dois prédios] they’re the same structure, with a huge crack in the middle.” What if something happens to the building? “They all die. There’s no way to save, because everything is locked,” says Nara.
The fear is shared by servants who work at CPP Butantã. Sabrina*, a worker, tells that if the blue building collapses, “it will fall on the other, where the inmates were relocated, because everything is interconnected. We are listening to the building collapse over our heads.”
According to Sabrina, there has been a large flow of water leaking under the building’s structure for years, and only recently temporary drains have been made outside the building to remove it. “I leave home to work and I don’t know if I’ll come back. Water gushes everywhere, two meters below the building with water that does not stop leaking. The direction is aware, the Secretariat of Penitentiary Administration (SAP) knows, but nothing has been done to correct it”, he denounces.
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Crowded cells and damaged structure
Wanted by Brazil in fact, SAP informed that, “with the partial interdiction of the building, SAP relocated inmates to other facilities of the unit, without harm or discomfort to the prey, since the unit has the prison population far below capacity”.
The capacity of CPP Butantã is for 1028 people. However, taking the newly deactivated areas out of the count, there are 537 vacancies for 763 prisoners. This equates to a capacity of 148% of the prison unit’s capacity.
In addition, photos taken at the most recent inspection by the Public Defender’s Office also reveal structural damage to the yellow building, to which the imprisoned women were transferred. Large holes in the wall, water leakage, plants growing from inside the structure, uneven floor without a floor, infiltration, mold and huge cracks in the floor and wall were captured in the images.
In an article broadcast in the TV Globo newspaper SP1, these records were published as if they were the building that was evacuated, and not as being precisely the one that is housing most of the detainees.
Fátima*, mother of a woman incarcerated at CPP Butantã, says that her daughter’s cell is on the fourth floor. “It’s a great despair, God forbid. I don’t sleep, girl. Not at all. I spend nights and nights awake,” she says, rubbing her forehead apprehensively.
Lack of water and medical assistance
The complaints about the conditions of the CPP Butantã transcend the structure of the buildings. “It’s full of bugs, there’s human mange, the food is horrible, the cracks, the building falling down, there’s no platform for the prey. A lot sleeping on the floor, on top of several nails. Companions who get hurt and there’s no doctor We don’t have a gynecologist, we don’t have psychiatrists, we don’t have anything. The pregnant women are all infected with urine because of the conditions in the toilet they are using”, summarizes Lucilene*, who has been serving her sentence there for over three years.
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“The cafeteria is also falling down”, describes Antônia*, another imprisoned woman who agreed to give an interview on condition of anonymity, arguing that retaliation is certain if they reveal their real names. “When it rains, it rains more inside the cafeteria than outside. We pass with the plate of food, the drip falls on the plate”, he says.
“We run out of water all day, sometimes water comes at 7 am and 6 pm at night. Many women menstruate on the same day. We have those small buckets to supply everyone, and there are ten women in a single room, sometimes up to 12”, says Antônia. “We sleep on the floor. The platform, we tie the platform with a piece of cloth because there’s not even a nail to nail the platform. We get sick and the medicine, they don’t let us in. They have now banned the entry of butter, they have forbidden it from entering mayonnaise”, he says.
It is not only the prisoners who reveal the degrading conditions to which the State of São Paulo submits its guardians and workers. “There are rats and pigeons in the kitchen and mold on the walls that are crumbling in our heads”, narrates Eduarda*, a civil servant who works at CPP Butantã.
“The right thing was to implode the building. Because everything is condemned there”, he says, remembering that the sewers run along the walls of the bathrooms. “For us employees, it’s no different, the food is precarious and we don’t have water or drinking fountains”.
Eduarda defines the conditions at CPP Butantã as “inhumane”: “At no time did anyone from the management come to talk to us and give us some explanation. They simply evacuated a building and that was it.” Asked how she feels, she summed up: “as if I were in a powder keg about to explode”.
Maria das Neves, regional coordinator of the São Paulo State Prison System Employees Union (SIFUSPESP) for the capital and greater São Paulo, draws attention to the fact that the problems at the CPP Butantã have been dragging on at least since 2014. “Maybe it is because of the nefarious intention of privatizing prisons behind it”, he suggests, characterizing the situation as chaotic. “We are at a threshold where the worst can happen. And the State has an obligation to safeguard people’s lives,” he stresses.
Asked about the measures that will be taken, SAP informed that it has started a bidding process to renovate the unit, with works scheduled for 2021 and lasting 15 months.
Tempestade, activist and survivor of the prison system, was imprisoned at CPP Butantã between 2011 and 2013. According to her, the situation was already precarious when she arrived. “We don’t give a damn about this building. Because they’re already putting out a public tender for a renovation. Now it’s throwing money into the garbage can, which was already done ten years ago. What we really want is an interdiction. If they’re going to demolish, if they’re going to fix it – it’s never going to be jail again,” he defends.
Coordinator of the Specialized Nucleus for Prison Situations of the Public Defender’s Office of São Paulo, Thiago de Luna Cury explains that a request for measures addressed to the Unit’s Judge Magistrate – Dr. Paulo Eduardo de Almeida Sorci – has been underway since March. However, no substantial measures have been taken so far.
“These women have been at risk for a long time, you can’t keep them that way,” says Cury. “There has to be technical expertise, a more detailed and detailed assessment to assess exactly the extent of this problem. Until that happens, we cannot risk 700 to 800 women who are imprisoned, the servants who are working there , having their lives at risk due to years of inertia of public power” points out the defender.
The report of the recent inspection carried out by the Public Defender’s Office will be delivered to the Judge Corregedor. If nothing is done, the Defender’s Office must file a lawsuit so that the women are transferred and the prison unit interdicted.
*Names have been changed to preserve font security.
Edition: Vinícius Segalla