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More Jail Is no Solution for Brazil

 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.

by: Luciana
Vasconcelos

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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