Wed May 22, 2024
May 22, 2024

Brazil: the Prison System Serves the Oppression of the Poorer

According to the Amazonas State Secretary of Penitentiary Administration, a conflict between criminal factions, on1st of January, was responsible for a mutiny which lasted for 17 hours and caused the death of at least 56 inmates, in the Anísio Jobim Penitentiary Complex (Compaj), in Manaus. Four days later, 33 prisoners were murdered in the Monte Cristo Prison Farm, in the rural area of Boa Vista, in the state of Roraima. Almost a hundred deaths in the first week of the year.
By Américo Gomes do Instituto Jose Luis e Rosa Sudermman.
This carnage is a cruel and tragic proof, not only of the failure of the Brazilian prison system, but also of the State policy of mass incarceration.
The data of the prison population in the penitentiary complex in Manaus is uncertain, but there were surely more than 1200 prisoners, which is more than three times its total capacity of 454. According to the diagnostic,[1] of the CNJ (National Justice Counsel), done last year, the complex was “awful” and completely unqualified for any attempt of re-socialization. Inmates did not have any juridical, educational, social or health assistance.
According the State Secretariat of Justice and Citizenship of Roraima, the Monte Cristo Prison Farm had 1475 inmates when the mutiny happened. The prison has a capacity for 750 prisoners.
This is the reality of the entire Brazilian prison system. The country has the 4th largest prison population in the world. In 2014 there were 622,200 prisoners held in a system that had a capacity to hold 371,900, an overcrowding of more than 250 thousand human beings. It is also the largest growing prison population in the planet, having grown 267% in 14 years (2000 to 2014)[2]. In the same period of time, the need of spaces tripled, but the deficit was more than twice smaller.[3] There are almost 2 prisoners per space.
According to the Ministry of Health, a prisoner has 28 times more chances to contract tuberculosis, is more likely to have HIV, and a criminal mortality three times greater than that of the population as a whole.[4]
To make things worse, the Manaus prison is co-managed by Umanizzare, a private prison company which only seeks profit and overexploits the prison workers.
The Temer Government’s Policy is More Prisons
Faced with tragedies such as these, the Temer government reacted as the previous governments: it promised to build more prisons. The minister of Justice, Alexandre de Moraes (PSDB), denies that the national prison system has gotten “out of control”. “Roraima already had problems before. On the second half of last year we had 18 deaths, and the situation was already under scrutiny of the local authorities”.
After all, for the Minister, slaughters, mutinies, and mass murder are part of the normality within the Brazilian prisons.
More prisons will not solve the problem of criminality. Brazil has too many prisons and too many prisoners.
The Victims of Violence: Young, Black and Poor.
Over 50,000 people are murdered in Brazil yearly. In 2016 we reached the sad record of 59,627 deaths. In a decade, more than 500,000 people were victims of homicide, more than the “number of deaths in most of the armed conflicts registered in the world”.[5]
This number alone shows the deep decadence of the bourgeois State and its partnership with criminality. It is impossible to reach such a level of violence without the involvement, active or passive, of part of the apparatus responsible for repression.
Homicides victimize mostly black people. In a decade (2002 – 2012), the number of murders of white people decreased from 19,846 in 2002 to 14,928 in 2012, while the black victims grew from 29,656 to 41,127.
The widespread violence of the State has “address, gender, color, and age”. We are talking of young black males, with ages between 15 and 24, low education, who live in peripheral areas.
Every Prison Has a Lot of Slaveship
The prison system is no different. Around 56% of the prisoners are between 18 and 29 years old, 62% are blacks, and 75,08% have at most elementary school.[6]
The Brazilian prison system is not a failed system. The truth is that there is, on the part of the State, a policy of mass incarceration, which has been intensified on the last 10 years. Not even the minimal measures of the Penal Executions Law, voted in 1984, are met.
Of these prisoners, more than 40% are in temporary custody, that is, they were not yet judged by the crimes they are accused of, but are already jailed. In the prison complex of Amazonas, 58% of the inmates were in temporary custody; in Roraima, the figure rises to 64%.
Among them, at least 48% are accused for crimes where there was no direct violence such as: drug trafficking, 27%; theft, 11%; weapon carrying, 7%; fencing, 3%.
A tragic highlight is that, during the period between 2000 and 2014, the increase in the female prison population was of 567,4%. Usually they are young, with children, responsible for their families, with low education, black, and poor. Among 68% of the times, these women are imprisoned for involvement with drug trafficking “unrelated to large criminal networks”.[7]
Among men, in 2006, 47,000 were for drug crimes (14% of the total), and from 2013 onward they were more than 130,000 (1 for every 4 prisoners).
Information published by the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, confronted with those of the IML (Legal Medicine Institute) of Manaus and of the Roraima government, indicated that almost half of the killed in the rebellions, this year, were arrested under charges of robbery, but others had gone to jail accused of less offensive crimes, such as theft, use of fake documents, and money currency counterfeiting. Homicide charges were over only a fourth of the total murdered. In Boa Vista, the most common accusation, of those killed, was drug trafficking.
Filling our prisons to the brim with small traffickers or small burglars does not solve crime or violence, and it is the basis for tragedies such as this one. If the reduction Law of the legal majority is enacted, this barbarism will leap in quality.
The State places first offenders and non-violent criminals in the same place as violent prisoners, murderers, rapists, and criminal factions. Fresh meat going to the slaughterhouse. In this way, no re-socialization is possible and the inmates return to society with more hatred and violence.
To End Criminality
The truth is that the capitalist society has no interest in ending crime. It grows because of the social crisis, which is exponentially increasing in our country and in the world, due to corruption and the immense profits of businesspersons. Furthermore, the widespread violence is a useful instrument to terrorize the majority of the poor population and a justification for repression.
The Brazilian prison system, overcrowded and degrading, is part of the State policy of mass incarceration. Just as in the United States of America, it is no coincidence that the growth of this population is mostly in the poor and black population, which is discriminated against, persecuted, has less rights, and is severely punished. This increases the racial segregation.
The damage that the prison system causes is not only for the incarcerated persons, but also for their families, above all the wives, mothers and sisters who subjected to great suffering. They are manly working class families and have few resources.
Only a socialist government of workers can solve the problem of crime in our country. It will treat violence as a social problem, where assuring jobs with decent wages will be a priority. Likewise, dignified working conditions, for the entire population, as well as access to quality public services will be guaranteed.
Specifically, one of the first measures to be taken is the legalization of drugs. The new drug law (Law n. 11.343/06), sanctioned by then-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, regulated that users and addicts should be treated differently from traffickers. It also increased the minimum penalty to five years in jail (maximum 15 years), with the goal of preventing the application of alternative sentences, with parole only being given after serving two-thirds of the time, and only if it is not recidivist.[8]
It is essential to legalize drug use, including the nationalization of all production and distributional processes, with State control, as a public health problem and not a crime.
In the custodial aspect, the objective of the punishment is to protect society against crime and, even more, against its relapsing, which can only be done if the reintegration of the individual, after release, is adequate. Hence, the respect for human dignity, the proscription of all torture, and cruel inhuman or degrading treatment is absolution necessary.
Programs for correctional reeducation are necessary. A 2014 study of the RAND Corporation[9] points out that “Inmates which were part of correctional education programs were ‘43% less likely to relapse than inmates which did not participate”; “Every dollar spent in prison education could save five dollars spent in three years of reintegration”.
To decrease and separate temporary prisoners from convicts is urgent. Among the convicts, the separation among the nature and seriousness of the crime is necessary. This might seem incredible, but it is taken into account in the Penal Executions Law, although it is not applied.
Ending overcrowding is also urgent. Therefore, it is necessary to have alternative penalties for first offenders and non-violent criminals, and with socio-educational measures and State monitoring.
Finally, a wide investigation must be done, with strict punishment for those responsible for the massacres and mutinies which happen inside the prisons.
Along with that, we must build Popular Councils in the communities. Thus, the population itself will judge the best way of fighting crime in its region, by using interpersonal intervention that will not depend on police or prison for small offenders.
This must go along with the demilitarization of the police (which was built by the civilian-military dictatorship), and by establishing a civilian, unified, and democratic police. Officers and commanders elected will be controlled by the organizations of the working class. It must have the right to strike and to organize itself in unions. It will have no military hierarchy or authoritarian command, which would lead to the end of the humiliating treatment inside the force and of the hygienist ideologies. This would turn the public security workers into defenders of the poor communities, unlike today, where they are organs of criminalization of the poor, black population of the peripheral areas, and of social movements.
It is also necessary to establish special community courts to judge small offenses, inside the community itself, with judges elected by it, without privileges or special powers.
This would be an even cheaper solution to the problem of public security.
Private Jails: a Profitable Business
The Compaj, inaugurated in 1999, is managed by a private company since 2014, which is responsible for prison administration along with the State. Besides the Compaj, there are three other private prisions in the State of Amazonas are private.
Umanizarre, the company that manages the Compaj, is also responsible for the administration of other seven prison units (five in Amazonas and two in the State of Tocantins). Its headquarters are in São Paulo, in the Faria Lima Avenue, Itaim Bibi neighborhood, a very rich region of the city. It has declared to the Commercial Junta of São Paulo to have a social capital of R$62 million. The State Secretariat of Penitentiary Administration (SEAP) pays it an estimate of R$205 million monthly to manage five prisons. According to the Public Accounting Office, Umanizzare receives R$4700 monthly per prisoner of the Compaj, while the national average, according to the CNJ, is R$2400. “It is suspected that this money was not used in the infrastructure and support of the inmates”.
Stock holders of Umanizzare donated R$ 212000 to the 2014 electoral campaign of an ex-federal congressman, who was accused of drug trafficking.
Since the hired companies receive money for every prisoner, they profit a lot with the increase in criminality and incarceration.
Investigations have pointed out that the penitentiary agents do not meet the requisites of the Penal Executions Law and that their hiring contradicts national and international regulations, such as the Mandela Rules.[10] In 2015, 153 workers were in the Compaj, while the contract demanded 250, which demonstrates that the service provided by this company is absolutely degrading, with few, untrained, inadequately selected workers.
To make matters worse, its directors are involved in corruption. A letter written on December 10th 2016, attached to a process in the Court of Penal Executions of Manaus, written by two inmates of the Compaj, who were killed in the last mutiny, denounced a corruption scheme by the prison managers and their involvement with criminal factions.
Immediate action must be taken to end all outsourcing and privatization in the prison system.
[4] Data of 2014.
[5] Violence Map of 2014.
[6] Survey Report of National Penitentiary Information (Infopen).
[7] Ibid – women.
[8] “A Nova Lei Antidrogas e o aumento da pena do delito de tráfico de entorpecentes” – Luciana Boiteux Mestre/UERJ, Doutora/USP Professora Adjunta da Faculdade Nacional de Direito/UFRJ.
[9] How Effective Is Correctional Education, and Where Do We Go from Here? –
[10] The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR) are a standard adopted by the United Nations in 1955. Its last reform was on December 17, 2015, approved by unanimity in the UN 70 General Assembly, establishing new standards for the treatment of inmates.
Translation: Gabriel Tolstoy.

Check out our other content

Check out other tags:

Most Popular Articles