The Ary Franco Prison where Phillip Smith is being held was two years ago condemned by the United Nations because it packed in 30 inmates to a cell, was infested with cockroaches and was leaking human waste.

The prison is so revolting that in 2012, after a UN panel highlighted cases of torture, inmate abuse and filthy cells, Brazil's Justice Minister, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, said he would prefer death to serving time there.

Brutal riots are commonplace at the prison, notorious for its inhumane conditions.

Smith's stepfather, Basil Smith, said last night that he feared his stepson would have a nervous breakdown in the prison.

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"Apparently it's pretty rough over there in the jails. He won't be used to it. It'll set him back," he said.

Built in 1974, the prison in Rio de Janeiro's Western Zone was designed to house 958 inmates. The building has five floors, each with five "galleries" consisting of units made up of six to eight cells.

A cell at Ary Franco is around 35sq m and holds 16-27 inmates, most serving sentences of four to eight years. But most will be transferred to other prisons in the state within the first four months of their sentence.

In June 2012, the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture recommended the immediate closure of Ary Franco Prison. It revealed, among other things, that human waste from the upper storeys was leaking through the floors below.

During the subcommittee's visit, 457 prisoners were occupying a space built for 296. With around 30 inmates in each cell, around half slept on the floor.

In 2003, seven prison guards were accused of torturing Chinese-Brazilian businessman Chan Kim Chang, 46, who died after he was found unconscious with head injuries in a cell at Ary Franco.

In comparison, Smith's previous lodgings at Spring Hill Corrections Facility were deemed as "effective" against Corrections' own performance targets.

Established in 2007, the prison is located on a 215ha site near Meremere in the Waikato. It caters for up to 1038 minimum- to high-security prisoners and currently has just over 770. Smith's latest security classification was low/medium.

A tale of two prisons

Ary Franco prison

• Built 1974 in Rio de Janeiro.

• Designed to house 958 inmates but notorious for overcrowding.

• In June 2012, the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture recommended immediate closure after discovering torture, inmate abuse, overcrowding and filthy cells which were causing serious health problems.

• Seven guards accused of torturing an inmate who later died from head injuries in 2003.

Spring Hill Corrections Facility

• Built 2007 on 215ha site in the Waikato.

• Caters for up to 1,038 inmates.

• Deemed as "effective" against Correction's own performance targets.

• Most serious events include the death of prison guard Jason Palmer who was attacked by an inmate, a 2013 riot causing $10 million worth of damage and inmate who suffered disfiguring injuries after being attacked this year.