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Brazzil - Crime - July 2004

More Jail Is no Solution for Brazil

There is a deficit of 60,714 places in Brazilian prisons, where,
at the moment, some 308,000 inmates are incarcerated. In Brazil,
only 10 percent of those found guilty get noncustodial sentencing.
Compare this to 80 percent in Great Britain. Brazil's Minister of
Justice has repeatedly urged the use of noncustodial sentencing.

Luciana Vasconcelos


Picture Projects for social reintegration and assistance for former prison inmates will be worked out in greater detail from now on, says Leila Paiva, who is the new coordinator of the government program for that sector (Coordenadoria Geral de Reintegração Social e Apoio ao Egresso do Departamento Penitenciário Nacional) (Depen), which is housed in the Ministry of Justice.

"We intend to work closely with ex-convicts, as well as their families, while being objective about results and impacts," declared Paiva, explaining that the goal was to get former prison inmates reintegrated into the labor market and their families, as well as providing them with legal assistance.

In the second half of this year, Depen is scheduled to release a detailed survey of the situation in Brazilian prisons at the state level. The survey asks 520 questions.

"It will give us more data on prisons and inmates. We cannot formulate policy with our eyes closed," says Paiva, adding that it is important for the effort to be a partnership of the Judiciary, civil society, government lawyers and NGOs. "We especially need the Judiciary to apply and monitor noncustodial sentencing. We need that very much," she said.

As for civil society, its participation is seen as fundamental. "Judges alone cannot carry the load. We need people to make the system more efficient," said Paiva.

She adds that it is also important for a national pact that will bring all the players together in drawing up strategies to deal with the problem and find solutions.

"We intend to work with methods that are thought out, unified and tried. We need projects that have worked, that are efficient, and that can be used in various states," she declared.

Depen data shows that there is a deficit of 60,714 places in Brazilian prisons, where, at the moment, some 308,000 inmates are incarcerated. Each one of those inmates costs US$ 326 (1,000 reais) per month. Only 10 percent of those found guilty get noncustodial sentencing in Brazil.

Studies by the Ministry of Justice show that 20 percent of those convicted could get non-custodial sentencing. "more noncustodial sentencing would ease the pressure, keep people out of the prison system when it is not necessary, and we can still have the serving their sentences," says Paiva.

Minister of Justice, Marcio Thomaz Bastos, has repeatedly urged the use of noncustodial sentencing. Most recently, at hearings last month in Congress, Bastos pointed out that in England fully 80 percent of criminal cases result in noncustodial sentencing, while in Brazil it is less than 10 percent.

"We simply have people in prison who should not be there. In prison they are corrupted, degraded and recruited by criminal gangs," said the minister.

Better Education

The low educational levels of prison inmates are also a cause of concern to the government. According to Fábio Costa Sá e Silva, general coordinator in charge of education in the Depen (Departamento Penitenciário Nacional—National Department of Prisons), one of the intentions is to raise inmates' educational levels. 70 percent of the system's current inmate population has still not finished the eight grades of fundamental education.

Data from the non-governmental organization, Global Justice Center, on "Human Rights in Brazil in 2003," released in May, show that half the inmates are less than 30 years old, are poor, and have little schooling. 10.4 percent are illiterate. The report also points out that the percentage of inmates who are studying does not exceed 32 percent in any state.

Education can help change the lives of prisoners. This is the case with Mário (a fictitious name), who is 25 years old and a student at the Catholic University of Brasília (UCB). Now on parole, he concluded his secondary studies in the Detention Center in Brasília, where he was imprisoned for armed robbery and spent slightly over two years.

Mário is one of the 115 sentenced students who study at the institution and receive full scholarships. They are part of the New Sun project, the offshoot of a partnership between the UCB and the Federal District (DF) branch of the National Support Foundation for Jailed Workers (Funap).

In addition to studying at the UCB, Mário also got a job, with help from the Funap, in the Ministry of Justice. He said that he was given a unique opportunity to change his life and that all he thinks about now is graduating, working, and providing his daughter the things that he didn't have.

"They didn't turn their backs, they didn't criticize. To the contrary, they are giving us another chance, to change and show that our lives aren't over, that there is a future," he recounted.

For the mid-year university entrance exams in 2004, the University of Brasília (UnB) prepared a special security scheme to hold exams in the Papuda Penitentiary Complex.

In all, 204 convicted criminals, monitored by prison guards and federal police agents, took the exams. The courses most sought after by prisoners are Law, Education, and Communications. So far no prisoner has gained admission to the UnB.

The Criminal Penalties Court in Brasília created the option for prisoners in the DF to take university entrance exams and, if they pass, to switch to a special detention regime which allows them to attend classes at the university and return to jail at night.

To encourage participation in these courses, each 18 class hours reduce the sentence by one day. Brasília has around seven thousand prison inmates, of whom 8.3 percent are illiterate, 63.3 percent have completed fundamental education, and 13.6 percent have gone beyond fundamental education.

Jail Factory

The second largest factory in the Path to Freedom ("Pintando Liberdade") program was inaugurated June 29 in the Franco da Rocha maximum security prison, in São Paulo. 800 inmates will be engaged in the production of sporting goods for social programs.

The Path to Freedom program, developed by the Ministry of Sports, operates in all Brazilian states and employs 12,700 inmates in 53 prison facilities.

The convicts manufacture sporting goods, such as balls, bags, and uniforms, which are distributed among various social programs and projects involving partnerships with government and private entities.

In addition to providing material of excellent quality, the program allows prison sentences to be reduced by one day for each three days worked.

By the end of the year, the Franco da Rocha unit is expected to produce 50 thousand balls for five different sports, 40 thousand uniforms, and a thousand soccer and volleyball nets.

All this material will go to children between 7 and 17 who participate in another of the Ministry's programs, the Second Half, which provides sporting activities, art classes, health guidance, school tutoring, and nutritional reinforcement to young people from families that earn no more than three minimum wages.

1.3 million reais (US$ 430,000) were earmarked for the agreement between the Secretariat of Prison Administration and the São Paulo Secretariat of Youth and Recreation. The material produced by the inmates should be sufficient to benefit 1.3 million children.

Luciana Vasconcelos 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 Allen Bennett.

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