The year of 2016 was a tough one for Brazil. Within a political and economic crisis expressed in worrying numbers – 1 impeachment, 51% of rejection towards the new president, 24 Ministries initially led homogeneously by the white male elite, 11,9% of unemployment rate and an expectation of a growth of less than 1% in the following year -, Brazilians refrained their optimism and hoped for a more favourable time in 2017.
What was not mentioned (nor was it an issue to the average citizen) was our historic, long-lasting and neglecting posture towards the penitentiaries in Brazil. The country has included and highlighted human rights in its last Constitution (1988) and signed various Treats concerning the theme, at the same time it always assumes the inhumane treatment dispensed to the inmates – many of them, not convicted yet. This is also a reflection of a never-ending discussion about the concept of detention and punishment.
According to the subsection 47, Article V of the Brazilian Constitution, death penalty only exists in a situation of declared war. In a more ironic than informative way, it could be said that death penalty does exist in Brazil, especially in those places where reintegration is just an aspiration and hazard is a constant.
One of the major difficulties for the country is handling the ever-growing number of criminals that exceed the prisons’ capacities. The average of 66% overcrowding is alarming, however some penitentiaries reach unbelievable marks, such as those in the state of Pernambuco (184%). What happens next is what is called ‘silent deaths’, as it was spotted in Rio de Janeiro – one does not call them slays, because they are not massive; on the other hand, no ventilation, overheating, the lack of hygiene conditions and the super population are potentially lethal.
In the beginning of the year, prisons in the states of Amazonas and Roraima (both in the low densely populated North of the country) lost in a brutal manner almost one hundred inmates in a slaughter – all the conflicts were linked to the confrontation between PCC and Comando Vermelho, two of the biggest criminal factions in Brazil, and, thus, to the fight for power. The number of the dead – ten of them decapitated and carbonized in Roraima – already reached 25% of the total prison deaths last year and the massacre in Roraima is considered to be the worst since Carandiru (1992).
Part of the society and also their President – who referred to the barbarian situation as a “regrettable accident” – do not seem to give the appropriate importance to the situation in Brazil. Mr Temer announced the construction of five new prison systems. Those would be filled with a little more than 1,000 detents, which is not in the slightest enough for the exceeding imprisoned population and is also part of previous measures already announced, what makes it pretty ineffective and expansive. Hopefully, those will not be all of his measures, since it is a priority for the new Minister of the Supreme Court, Ms. Carmen Lúcia Rocha.
It is to understand the conservative profile the first man of Brazil assumes in a scenario of deep recession. Given that he rose to power to the fall of former president Mrs Rousseff (whose difficulties, attacks suffered, political inabilities and questionable conduct were already explored here), it seems like he believes he cannot toy with luck, nor political support, if he wants to be in command until 2018. Moreover, he comes to represent a social layer that was once less favoured by the elected president: the middle class, the one eager to feel their Executive power is fighting the crisis.
This sort of planning must be very carefully implemented in long-term, though. The shocking lines said by (now, ex) Youth Secretary Bruno Júlio – that there should be such a killing per week – are, under no conditions, acceptable. And that is for strategic, democratic, political, economic, ethical, moral and, above all, humane reasons.
First, they are citizens and, if not because of their representative power once they are at large or for the obligation the country has to protect all of its citizens, one must consider that they depend on reintegration to join the workforce again and help reestablish the Economy (especially when projections show that one in three unemployed in the world in 2017 will be Brazilian – but that is a topic for another discussion).
Also, the system does not act correctly when it comes to ‘keep’ the prisoners – in the country, about 40% of the 607,731 (datum from 2015) detents were preventively arrested, which means that the Judiciary power has not decided (sometimes for years) whether they are guilty or not.
Finally, as surprising as it may seem at a first blush, penitentiaries lack security. Across the country, one can find bizarre situations that go from the free use of mobiles inside the cells – which characterizes a totally incompetent way of stopping crime and arresting a criminal – to vexing inspection applied to visitors – the combination of no suitable devices for detecting irregularities allied to humiliating practices towards the detents’ families are widely reprehended. That also touches a very sensitive point in the discussion on the theme, whether or not prisons should be privatized.
In a nutshell, knowing and solving the issue Brazil has in its prisons is a long, painstaking, arduous job that will not end now. Not only must the practical aspects of keeping human beings under custody be taken into consideration, but also a whole social mindset needs to be worked on to realise the need for dignified treatment, in times when, as it is widely spread on the internet, “a good criminal is a dead criminal”.