About Carandiru Prison Museum

Known locally as ‘Casa de Detencao’ – House of Detention – Carandiru Prison in Brazil’s capital São Paulo was designed and built by Samuel das Neves in 1920 and at the time, it was a state-of-the-art correctional facility that more than met the demands of Brazil’s 1890 Criminal Code.

The first inmates arrived in 1956 and very quickly, overcrowding became a serious issue. At its peak, there were over 8,000 prisoners at Carandiru (with only 1,000 guards for company) and inevitably, gangs seized control of the cell blocks. The medical staff were reluctant to go in which led to untreated conditions, itself leading to infection and death. Malnutrition and starvation were also common and during the 1980s, a severe AIDS epidemic ran rife through the prison.

Eventually in October 1992, a prisoner revolt at the inhumane conditions started the mother of all prison riots. In what became known as the Carandiru Massacre, the Policia Militar do Estado de São Paulo, making little or no effort to try the diplomatic route, stormed the cell blocks, killing 102. A further nine prisoners were allegedly killed by fellow inmates in one of modern Brazil’s darkest hours.

The prison’s death certificate was signed and it was demolished in 2002. Eleven years later, 63 policemen were sentenced to a staggering total of 19,908 years in prison for their part in the massacre.

Today, the Paulista Penitentiary Museum in the north of the city occupies the one remaining cell block and it aims to preserve the prison’s documents that tell the story of one of the world’s most brutal prisons.

The 21,000-piece collection includes detailed paintings, sculptures and furniture made by prisoners in creative workshops as well as objects ‘that help to reassemble the daily lives of the prisoners’ including rudimental tattoo machines and makeshift weapons.

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