tanozzo / Flickr A locked gate at the now-decommissioned Vila de Dois Rios Prison, known for its overcrowded conditions and informal prisoner control of daily operations.

Prisoner's Dilemma

Inside Brazil's Vila de Dois Rios Prison

The island of Ilha Grande is located 62 miles to the southwest of the city of Rio de Janeiro. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, slave laborers produced coffee and sugarcane on the island. With the eventual abolition of slavery, however, the island’s economy went into a decline. Then, in 1884, the federal government purchased two large fazendas (farms). The Fazenda do Holandês, located in the port town of Vila do Abraão, was purchased for the purpose of building a quarantine facility for immigrants arriving by boat. The facility, which at the time was considered state of the art, opened its doors in 1886 and could accommodate up to 1,500 passengers who were segregated according to the class of their berth on board ship. Between 1886 and 1913, the Lazerota da Ilha Grande, as it was called, received visits from 4,232 ships, 3,367 of which had to be disinfected. Then, for the next few decades, it was used occasionally as a place to detain political prisoners until it was officially transformed into a prison under the name of the Colônia Penal Cândido Mendes in 1942.

The other property purchased by the federal government was the Fazenda de Dois Rios, located on the other side of the island. Initially, the Fazenda de Dois Rios was used to produce supplies for the quarantine facility in Vila do Abraão, until in 1894 it was transformed into the Colônia Correcional de Dois Rios. During the first two years of its existence, the colônia (colony) accommodated very few prisoners, which led, ultimately, to it being closed down in 1896. In 1903, however, it was reopened and used, increasingly, to relieve overcrowded conditions in the prisons on the mainland.

This second incarnation of the Colônia Correcional de Dois Rios was supposed to be more structured and organized than the first. It was also meant to provide inmates with medical care, education, and opportunities for work. In reality, however, the distance between what was prescribed by law and what existed on the ground was

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