SAO PAULO – SAO PAULO (AP) — When prosecutor Jorge Magno arrived at Rio de Janeiro's Polinter de Queimados jail to investigate a drug trafficking ring, he was surprised when an inmate opened the front door to let him in.
"Inside I saw prisoners walking around freely, greeting relatives of the other prisoners," Magno told reporters.
It turned out the lockup was being run by a group of inmates who allegedly worked hand-in-hand with the warden and charged other prisoners' families for privileges.
"We found several irregularities that will be investigated, Magno said.
Overcrowding, corruption, violence and contraband goods are common throughout Brazil's lockups, but a spokesman for Rio state prosecutors told The Associated Press on Thursday that this could be a new low for an already troubled penitentiary system.
"This is the first time I have heard of inmates running a prison ... deciding who can come in and negotiating privileges," said the spokesman, who declined to be identified in line with standard department policy.
A statement from the office said officials intercepted phone calls in which families on the outside agreed to pay inmate and alleged ringleader Jeferson Mafra a one-time fee of 3,000 reals ($1,700) to secure more comfortable conditions for their relatives.
"Those who paid were given better cells with television sets, fans and comfortable mattresses," the spokesman said. "They were also allowed to circulate freely."
Inside the warden's office, prosecutors said, investigators found a gun, ammunition, cell phones and accounting records showing how much each inmate's family paid.
The statement said Mafra, the warden and a guard were detained.
Polinter de Queimados holds 170 inmates who are awaiting trial on charges such as murder, rape and fraud.