Data disclosed on 20 July through the 2023 Brazilian Public Security Yearbook, revealed that, in 2022, the prison population in Brazil is now 832,295 – data from 2022 provided by the National Council of Justice (CNJ) indicate that Brazil has 909,061 prisoners.

The growth rate of the prison population is around 1.4%. In 2021, the number of people deprived of their liberty reached 820,689, thus in 2022, 11,606 were added to the total. The result of 2022 places Brazil on the third position among countries with the largest prison population.

The total population of the prison system is bigger than that of 93.2% of the cities in the country. The survey also revealed the problem of extreme lack of spaces for prisoners and of a large population of non-convicted prisoners. These issues are said to be helping organized crime to grow and gain strength.


Still according to the Yearbook, there is a deficit of more than 236,000 places in the prison system. Moreover, the total number of prisoners in the country are greater than the number of residents of 5,186 cities in Brazil, according to data from the 2022 Census, released in June. The country has 5,568 cities and two districts.

The prison population is also bigger than that of three states in Brazil: Roraima, which has 636,303 inhabitants; Amapá, with 733,508 people; and Acre, with 830,026.

Third Place

In the global ranking, Brazil remains in third place, behind the United States, which has around 1.7 million (WBP-2021), and China, where 1.69 million (WBP-2018) people are incarcerated.

Not-Convicted Prisoners

Of the total number of prisoners in Brazil, 621,608 were already convicted, while 210,687 are provisionally detained, awaiting trial. That is: for every four people arrested, one was not tried and had a sentence defined by the Brazilian Justice.

The Same Scenario in Latin America

A survey promoted by the Grupo de Diários América (GDA) analyzed the prison scenario in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Venezuela and the US territory of Puerto Rico. The work verified a series of common problems in the prison systems of these nations.

Common issues encountered:

  • Overcrowded prisons
  • Precarious conditions – lack of space to sleep and poor diet
  • There are thousands of prisoners who spend years without receiving a sentence
  • Difficulty in obtaining official data on the prison situation
  • Violence: fires, attacks, rebellions, murders, extortion, threats
  • Corruption and disorder allow crimes to be orchestrated within prisons and generate millions of dollars for criminal groups
  • Presence of organized crime

Prison Population and Overpopulation Across Latin America                                                                    

Source: Grupo de Diários América (GDA) and 2023 Brazilian Public Security Yearbook.

Other Findings

Of the 12 countries analyzed between 2016 and 2022, only Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Puerto Rico showed a tendency to reduce the prison population.

The three countries with the largest prison population over the seven years were Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.

Birth Location for the Criminal Organizations, Management Base and “Crime University”

All the problems present in prisons across Latina America help fuel the presence of organized crime inside and outside them. Violence against prisoners and precarious living conditions are connected to the birth of many major criminal groups. For instance, the First Capital Command (PCC), Brazil’s strongest gang, emerged after a prison massacre carried out in São Paulo during a prison riot – 111 prisoners were killed by the police in Carandiru. The Red Command (CV) was created by political and common prisoners kept in the Ilha Grande Prison during the military dictatorship. Both groups had as one of their main goals to create a form of protection against violence promoted by law enforcement and other prisoners.

Now, the prisons serve as management bases for the factions’ leaders detained there. In addition, they help criminals to enlist more and more members who enter there for minor crimes and end up looking for protection of a major group. Upon taking their oath to a faction, criminals start to carry out more serious criminal actions and fulfill important roles, leaving behind the times of petty crimes. That is why they are referred as the crime universities.

Only in countries like Peru, Costa Rica and Uruguay there are no identified groups that control the prisoners — and the violence and extortion events that unfold.

Source: G1, O Globo, Insight Crime.

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