SÃO PAULO — Brazil’s hideously overcrowded prisons see frequent outbursts of extreme violence and murders, and are infamous for being in the stranglehold of sophisticated criminal gangs that are capable of orchestrating anything from synchronized mutinies to contract killings from inside their cells.

The country’s prison population is so vast and the authorities’ ability to contain it so stretched, the lack of security at some penitentiaries is almost surreal.

This week it emerged that inmates at a jail in Piauí, one of Brazil’s most impoverished states, are regularly slipping out to go on late-night crime sprees, robbing locals of a wish list of items banned in prison.

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