'Come back Monday, Okay?' Brazilian prisoners told as thousands escape and COVID madness consumes country

'Come back Monday, Okay?' Brazilian prisoners told as thousands escape and COVID madness consumes country

If you're locked up, right now is a great time to test your luck

VicesMarch 20, 2020 By Will Brendza

Watching the spread of Coronavirus is scary enough from the comfort of our own homes — but just imagine being locked up in a prison, without medical services, surrounded by people and poor hygiene.

That’s a reality for hundreds of thousands of people out there right now. Hardened criminals and non-violent offenders alike are locked up all over the world, without a means to self-isolate from the other inmates, watching in terror as the situation gets worse all over the globe. It’s why, in Italy, prison riots broke out that ended with 10 people dead, after the prison placed tighter restrictions on family visits.

And just recently, in Brazil, there was a mass breakout that saw some 1,500 prisoners escape from four different “semi-open” prisons across the nation. The fugitives flooded the streets, and disappeared into the city.

“These prisoners were unhappy about the decision that suspended the Easter leave,” said Lincoln Gakiya, a prosecutor in São Paulo state. “The prisoners were told and in some units, rebelled.”

The Easter leave he’s referring to, is a strange thing. The “semi-open” prisons of Brazil allow prisoners to work during the day and spend their evenings behind bars. Throughout the year, the prison holds five annual “breaks” where these prisoners get a vacation from their cells and roam free.

But, with COVID-19 on the loose, that wasn’t going to happen. These guys could go out into the world, contract the virus and then bring it back into the prison to infect everyone else. Or, if they already have it, they could infect the free people of Sao Paulo with it.

“The measure was necessary because the benefit would include more than 34,000 convicts of the semi-open regime who, returning to prison, would have high potential to install and propagate coronavirus,” a statement from the prison said, adding that Brazil’s semi-open prisons don’t have armed guards patrolling them.

So the Easter break was cancelled, and the prisoners decided that wasn’t acceptable. So they made their own break.

In one video of one of the prison breakouts, hundreds of inmates can be seen storming down the street, jogging like they’re in a marathon. One of the men watching them shouts, “Come back Monday, Okay?”

Right. Like these guys, who are finally free and on the loose are going to go back to their jail cells willingly, when there’s a global pandemic wreaking havoc on countries all over the world.

In another video, prisoners are shown hanging out on a soccer pitch on the beach.

Police and prison officials eventually recovered control of the rioting prisons, though of the 1,500 escaped inmates they have only recovered 174… Which leaves them a lot of work to do still.

And dangerous work at that. Not just because these are escaped criminals (many of whom are related to violent drug gangs), but because these guys could also be carrying the virus, when officers finally re-apprehend them. In order to get these guys back into the jails they escaped from, Brazilian police are going to have to put themselves in the line of fire and viral infection.

But the real question is, are these guys going to do more harm as free men? Or as convicts? Because, as Renato Lima, director-president of the Brazilian Public Security Forum pointed out, a full third of Brazil’s prisoners (234,000 people) are without health stations in their prisons.

On top of that, some 9,000 of those are seniors over 60…

That is a ticking time-bomb. Even if one of those 1,500 escapees is carrying COVID-19, that could spell certain doom for many of those senior prisoners. In which case, it might be the lesser of two evils to just let these guys go.

What strange times we’re living through.