The following article, written by the president of the Humanitas360 Institute, Patrícia Villela Marino, was published by the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo on October 10, 2023.
At the beginning of October, the Supreme Federal Court (STF) unanimously decided that federal and state governments must develop a plan to combat problems in the prison system, such as the overcrowding of prisons, the high number of pre-trial detainees and the stay in a more severe regime or for a period longer than the sentence.
The judges recognized a “massive violation of rights in the Brazilian prison system” and established a deadline of six months, “especially aimed at controlling prison overcrowding, the poor quality of existing vacancies and the entry and exit of prisoners”, according to information from the STF’s website.
Brazilian society needs to advance this issue of the prison system, a thorny issue that is linked to other equally complex issues, such as the country’s structural racism.
We have, in this government, a team of ministers who are known to be much more in favor of guaranteeing the rights of incarcerated people. Maranhão, a state that was once governed by minister Flávio Dino, is one of the states that offers the most work and educational opportunities for the prison population.
Anielle Franco, Minister of Racial Equality, previously worked as a translator in a prison for illegal immigrants in the United States. The Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship, Silvio Almeida, was one of the organizers of the translation of the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander in Brazil, in addition to being, in his work as a researcher and activist, linked to movements to guarantee rights.
We need to articulate and make use of all possible capital – not just economic, that is – to be able to leave legacies of greater respect for human rights in the prison system in the coming years. More than that, these measures need to have guarantees of continuity so that we no longer have only temporary programs, dependent on the “good will” of political leaders. This is one of the issues dear to us, in civil society, who work with the prison system.
For this debate, I would like to list some measures that can be taken to achieve this.
One of them is the increase in investments and efforts in social reintegration programs and prison alternatives. Coordination is also necessary so that the programs implemented – whether by civil society institutions, international entities, etc. – can have institutional continuity guaranteed by laws and not be broken in future governments, becoming just “political currencies”.
It would also be essential to have a greater dialogue between the National Council for Criminal and Penitentiary Policy, of the Ministry of Justice, and civil society – represented by NGOs, third sector entities, families of imprisoned people, researchers and experts on topics such as violence, security, crime and mass incarceration.
Likewise, a greater exchange is desired, respecting the respective authorities, between the programs of the National Secretariat for Penal Policies and the Department of Monitoring and Inspection of the Prison System and the System of Execution of Socio-Educational Measures of the National Council of Justice, including the investment in improving the structure and increasing Community Councils.
The development of partnership programs and the search for financing, at national and international level, could boost the implementation of policies to support education and work for prisoners, those released from the prison system, and family members of prisoners.
Last but not least, the review of the 2006 Drug Law.
We believe that these actions would actively address the problem of mass incarceration and its harmful consequences for thousands of Brazilian families. It is worth remembering that it was in prisons that organized crime factions were born and prospered, enticing thousands of people into prison.
It is not news, either, that the structure of prisons and the need for survival leads many criminals to remission or to entice other acquaintances, family and friends. Breaking these cycles requires a commitment from public authorities and civil society to combat inequality, in all its forms.