Code Red at Brazilian Prisons


Code Red at Brazilian Prisons

A new document urges Brazilian authorities to take emergency measures
to deal with the
prison system in Brazil. The prison population in Brazil
is increasing rapidly and jails are overcrowded.
The country has today
284,000 inmates, almost 50,000 more than it had just seven months ago.

Prison escapes and hostage-taking have become common.

by:
AB

 

The proposals contained in the "Letter from Rio," presented recently at the XIII World Criminology Congress, will
be forwarded to the Minister of Justice, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, on August 19. The document was prepared during the
fifth forum of secretaries of Justice, Human Rights, and Prison Administration from various Brazilian states. The forum
took place in the Rio Center, parallel to the Criminology Congress.

The Letter recognizes the seriousness of the situation affecting penitentiaries throughout the country, the result of
neglect in terms of the public policies instituted over the course of many years, and various proposals recommend the adoption
of emergency measures to resolve the problem. Among them, the provision of space, in the short-run, for at least one
hundred thousand more prisoners, to compensate for the backlog that exists in the country. Greater investment in the prison
system is also urged.

The question of investments in the prison system was a topic that received considerable attention at the five forums
held in Brasília, Sergipe, São Paulo, and Espírito Santo, as well as the latest one in Rio, and the increase in the number of
inmates in Brazil was pointed out as one of the factors that confer an emergency character to the measures proposed, according
to the director of the Council of secretaries, Emanuel Cacho.

"Much has been invested in public safety in the states. As a result, the police have greater agility and are making
more arrests. Last year, room for 26 thousand new inmates was added to the prison system. In the past seven months alone,
the number of prisoners increased by nearly 50 thousand—at the end of last year, the prison population numbered 236
thousand, and today it amounts to 284 thousand. The way things stand, it would be necessary for the number of prisoners
to remain unchanged for the next six years to stabilize the situation. What was difficult before has become critical,"
he emphasized.

Federal Penitentiary

An official note was published inviting bids for the construction of the country’s first federal penitentiary, in Mato
Grosso do Sul. The penitentiary will be located in the rural zone of the municipality of Campo Grande (MS). It will be the
first of five units announced by the Minister Thomaz Bastos. Each federal prison is expected to cost, on the average, R$ 12
million (US$ 4 million). Resources will come from the National Penitentiary Fund (Funpen). The next units should be
constructed in Rio Grande do Sul and the Federal District.

The federal prisons are distinguished by a new concept of prison establishments. They will be small buildings, for,
at most, 200 highly dangerous prisoners. There will be room for medical assistance, education, and professional training
of inmates. Investments in technology and constant training of prison personnel will guarantee the security of the units.
All this is envisioned in the Penal Law, which establishes the rights of prisoners, even though few Brazilian penitentiaries
comply with these determinations.

Decentralization

The federal government wants to stimulate states to regionalize and decentralize the Brazilian prison system.
According to Ângelo Roncalli, director of the National Prison Department (Depen), the Ministry of Justice has oriented the states
not to build prison complexes. "The idea is to change the focus, putting priority on the recuperation of prisoners, and, to
do this, we have to reduce the size of prisons," he added.

Roncalli thinks that the control in small prisons is more effective. For this to come about, states should divide into
regions, each with its own prisons: public penitentiaries for temporary prisoners, big-time jails for hardened criminals, and
penal colonies (agricultural, industrial, or something similar) for part-time prisoners.

Bastos had announced in March his intention of transforming a state prison into a maximum security federal
prison, with anonymous prison guards. The Justice Minister underlined the importance of the prison guards’ remaining anonymous, so as not to receive either
propositions or threats from the prisoners. "We are authorized to hire 200 prison guards," he declared. For the Minister, the root
cause of organized crime is money-laundering.

 

This article was prepared by Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government.
Comments are welcome at lucas@radiobras.gov.br

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