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Brazzil - Justice - August 2004

Brazil Wants Less Criminals in Jails

The number of inmates in Brazilian jails has risen from 114,000
in 1992 to 300,000 this year. Brazil's Minister of Justice, Márcio
Thomaz Bastos is calling for a change, so that alternative sentences
can be used more frequently, reducing the population of prisons.
He also wants the courts to speed up the release of prisoners

Stefan Barth


Picture Brazil's Minister of Justice, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, and the president of the National Crime and Prison Policy Council, Antônio Cláudio Mariz de Oliveira, called for greater use of alternative punishments in Brazil in place of prison sentences. According to them, alternative sentences are much less expensive for society.

"The cure to the situation of our prisons is not simply more money," Bastos said. He stated that the number of inmates has risen from 114 thousand in 1992 to 300 thousand this year.

The Minister informed that the annual sum allotted to prison expenses is US$ 330,000 (1 million reais), transferred to the states through the Prison Fund (Funpen).

Bastos said, however, that it is not possible to eliminate the deficit in prison vacancies, even if the entire amount were used to build new cells.

In the Minister's view, the Judiciary could increase the number of alternative sentences assigned to offenders. At the same time, criminal penalty courts could speed up the release of prisoners who have already served their sentences or have done part of their time and are judged capable of performing alternative services for society.

Bastos and Mariz took part in the opening of the joint meeting of the National Crime and Prison Policy Council and the National Council of Secretaries of Justice, Citizenship, and Prison Administration.

Work in Prison

The Ministry of Sports' Path to Freedom ("Painting Freedom") Program, created in October, 1997, brings new hope and opportunity to individuals serving time in Brazilian prisons.

The idea is to resocialize inmates through professional training. The new trade involves the production of sporting goods. Balls, bags, uniforms, caps, and warm-up suits are manufactured at the 62 factories that have been installed so far.

On August 9, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the Minister of Sports, Agnelo Queiroz, went to Feira de Santana, in the state of Bahia, to inaugurate the expansion of the Juvenile Farm, one of the 62 units in the program.

According to the Minister, 220 thousand pieces, among T-shirts, bermudas, shorts, and warm-up suits, will be produced at the Farm in the next six months.

A total of 12.7 thousand inmates participate in the program in all of Brazil. They receive payment to help their families or deposit in savings accounts, as well as reducing their sentences by one day for each three days they work.

The material they produce is used by the federal government in its social projects, such as the Second Half Program, also run by the Ministry of Sports, to promote the social inclusion of fundamental and secondary school students in areas of social risk.

This can be achieved through the practice of sports during the half of the day when they are not attending classes. The partnership also makes it possible to alleviate another problem: the lack of sports equipment in public schools.

On August 1, 850 balls and 20 Brazilian flags were sent to Haiti. This material is used by the Brazilian Peace Force that is stationed there. The soldiers have gotten street children involved in various social projects, among them the practice of sports.

"It is a way to calm and ease the population," affirms the coordinator of the Path to Freedom, Gerencio Nelcyr do Bem. 890 balls had already been sent to Haiti in April.

Stefan Barth works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by David Silberstein.

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