Citizenship and the Prison System Set Panel Discussion Agenda in Rio

Humanitas360 and CUFA expand the space for social participation through conversation about citizen empowerment, the prison system and other themes.

The United States and Brazil occupy the first and fourth place respectively among the countries with the largest prison populations in the world. This data may be even more challenging if we look at it from a political, economic, and social perspective, once public policies that have been adopted in the past few decades have shown themselves to be rather weak in addressing one of the most urgent agendas in the Americas. In such a setting, there are few opportunities for citizens to come together to talk about important themes with the intention of acting and transforming their realities.

In order to promote a dialogue among Brazilian citizens, Humanitas360 in partnership with CUFA (acronym that stands for Central Union of Slums) organized a discussion panel regarding the prison system, violence, public security, and other subjects. The event counted with the presence of social leaders, activists, artists and members of the media. The special speakers included Julita Lemgruber (CESeC and author of the book A Dona das Chaves, translated The Owner of the Keys), Celso Athayde (CUFA), Dr. Carl Hart (professor at Columbia University), Patrícia Villela Marino (president of Humanitas360), MV Bill (CUFA), Atila Roque (Executive Director of Amnesty International – Brazil), Raull Santiago (Collective Straight Talk), and Diego Lopes (an ex-offender). The event happened at the headquarters of CUFA in Madureira neighborhood (Rio de Janeiro) on October 14th, 2015.

“For me, to be a part of a conversation like this one here at CUFA, with you all, concerning citizenship and the prison system is absolutely central to our agenda [Amnesty International] today as we promote human rights, the building of democracy and the expansion of spaces for people to lead,” said Atila right at the beginning.

Julita Lemgruber, who was the first woman to direct the Rio de Janeiro prison system, emphasized issues such as the problematic lack of law enforcement in Brazil and how the system denies inmates’ rights. She also encouraged the public to act and hold political leaders accountable.

“We need leadership. We need people that actually go there and put their finger in the wound. You are those people. I believe that you have the legitimacy to go there. We here can help, we can support. Now, you are the ones that have legitimacy to touch the wound,” said Julita.

Professor Carl Hart, who had already participated in the first discussion panel that Humanitas360 hosted in partnership with Americas Society/Council of the Americas in New York City, stressed the importance of not blaming drugs as the cause of social problems such as poverty and violence. Hart warned that Brazil has been following the path the United States followed in the mid-1980s, which led the country to have the largest prison population in the world.

Celso Athayde and MV Bill, both from CUFA, shared their personal experiences and inspired the public to pursue their voice and to participate actively in the building of their communities. Bill brought to the conversation matters such incarcerated individuals’ lack of the right to vote and the detrimental distance between society and the prison system.

Celso took the opportunity of the talk to invite the public to continue discussing such topics and to transform their own realities.

“It’s necessary that this population, which nowadays represents 33 million people, who are the favela dwellers […], starts conducting this kind of debate. As we start building new perspectives, our children will no longer feel embarrassed of the physical spaces where they live, but they will transform those spaces into spaces that a lot of people will want to be in, because they will be spaces of richness, culture and a great fortress,” said Celso.

Raull Santiago from Collective Straight Talk, who was also present at the debate in New York City about citizen empowerment, brought his perspective about how the country has an “armed public security,” focused on repression and violence. Raull encouraged the public to believe that changes are possible as well as to use their voice to influence positively their own communities.

The president of Humanitas360, Patrícia Villela Marino, talked about the need of society being involved in the process of reintegration of ex-offenders, giving space for individuals to return to society empowered to lead their lives, especially to find jobs.

“There is no life sentence in Brazil. It’s true. But there is a perpetuity of the sentence in their lives. Those are two different things. You won’t be in prison forever, incarcerated, but incarceration will most likely always be present in your life,” said Patrícia referring to the challenges that ex-offenders face.


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