Since June of this year, the workshops of two prison cooperatives created by the Humanitas360 Institute (H360) in the city of Tremembé, São Paulo, Brazil have been suspended. In an attempt to formalize the relationship with the state of São Paulo’s government, the H360 team entered negotiation to sign terms of technical cooperation based on a year and a half’s work during which (1) implementation of pilot programs at the locale; (2) investment of over R$ 1,000,000 (approximately $ 260,000 U.S. dollars) in terms of equipment, training for detainees, development of products and human caital; and (3) creation of the brand “Tereza” to commercialize this production, items of which can be purchased at https://tereza.org.br/. The suspension comes in light of a change in government; therefore, this manifesto requests that current Governor João Doria reverse the suspension of this project within the penitentiaries of São Paulo.
All this work was developed based on tacit agreement with São Paulo’s Secretariat of Penitentiary Administration, under then-Governor Geraldo Alckmin. During negotiations with current governor João Doria to formalize the accord in a contract through Nivaldo Restivo, current Secretary of Penitentiary Administration, two points prevented an agreement for the said terms of technical cooperation.
i. The first point of discord was the understanding, on the Secretary’s behalf, that the project was subject to an article in the Law of Penal Executions that obliges the payment of a minimum wage salary to each prisoner that is hired to work for a commercial company in the prison. However, the social cooperative created by H360 transforms inmates into entrepreneurs, not employees. Cooperative members proudly declare themselves partners in their own company. Five cooperative members, all of whom entered the cooperative while inside the penitentiary, fulfilled their sentences and are now free. They continue working as entrepreneurs in the workspace setup by the H360 team, affectionately called Casa Tereza and located in the city of Taubaté.
ii. The second point of dissent was the Secretary’s failure to recognize the legitimacy of a social cooperative formed by detainees. This is despite the fact that the the cooperative was registered by the São Paulo State Board of Trade (“Junta Comercial do Estado de São Paulo”), the State Treasury Department (“Secretaria da Fazenda do Estado”), and is part of the National Registry of Legal Entities (“Cadastro Nacional da Pessoa Jurídica”), of the Ministry of Finance (“Ministério da Fazenda”).
The office of Matos Filho drafted a pro-bono legal opinion on these two points of dissent entitled “Possibility of organization, development, registration and operation of social cooperative of persons deprived of freedom,” annexed to this Manifesto, which concludes:
- There is no legal prohibition for the exercise of compensated work by individuals guarded in the prison system.
- The labor of guarded individuals in the penal system is incentivized by international standards on the subject and by the Law of Penal Executions (“Lei de Execuções Penais”). Furthermore, there is no law that governs the composition of a social cooperative for this purpose.
- The entrepreneurial model of the social cooperative is in accordance with the program of goals for the biennium 2019/2020 for the State of São Paulo.
- Social cooperatives formed by persons deprived of their liberty contribute to the transformation of the national penitentiary system, recognizing the state of deep crisis within which we find overcrowding and violation of rights.
The principal objective of the “Entrepreneurship Behind and Beyond Bars” project of the Humanitas360 Institute is to prevent criminal recidivism. Therefore, we offer income-generating opportunities to people who would otherwise not be able to find employment due to their vulnerable position in society and the strong influence of criminal factions. Each product bearing the Tereza trademark includes the life story of one of the cooperative members, revealing how the individual became was involved in crime and the role of the cooperative in her personal journey of socialization.
The project has a strong educational component. We hired consultants and had several volunteers who helped improve the techniques and processes of detainees. The Solidarity Social Fund of São Paulo (“Fundo Social de Solidariedade de São Paulo”), led by the First Lady of the State as its President, taught different courses to cooperative members in the female penitentiary. With Atina’s support, the detainees and ex-detainees of the cooperative will receive a certificate from the Ministry of Education for their learning journey. Beyond the rigorous academic, professional and business skills gained, we offer concrete assets in the detainees’ emancipatory journeys towards public life. This includes psychological support and opportunities for reflection, regret and reconciliation with themselves, their families and society.
The impact of this project in improving the climate within the penitentiaries of São Paulo attracted the attention of the National Justice Council (“Conselho Nacional de Justiça, CNJ”). Its president, Minister Dias Toffoli, signed a partnership with the Humanities360 Institute in December to bring this experience to other Brazilian states. Last month, the Secretariat of Penitentiary Administration of Maranhão (“Secretaria de Administração Penitenciária do Maranhão”) and the local Court of Justice entered into accord with the CNJ and H360 to create the fourth cooperative of detainees in the country, in the Female Penitentiary of Pedrinhas (“Penitenciária Feminina de Pedrinhas”) in São Luís. Further information can be found at this link: http://www.seap.ma.gov.br/2019/05/26/boas-praticas-cnj-indica-o-ma-para-executar-projeto-internacional-de-cooperativas-de-detentos/.
The suspension of this project in the penitentiaries of São Paulo eliminates space for innovation, one of the principal platform points of Governor João Doria in his campaign for the Palace of Bandeirantes (Palácio dos Bandeirantes), the residence of the governor and head of state government. To suggest that the social cooperatives formed by detainees were against the law is to say that the Alckmin government permitted, for over a year, an illicit activity within its prisons.
The Humanitas360 Institute project was inspired by the first cooperative of detainees in the country, Coostafe, or Social Cooperative of Female Artesian Entrepreneurs (“Cooperativa Social de Trabalho e Arte Feminina Empreendedora”), created in 2014 at the Center for Female Resocialization of Ananindeua (state of Pará), by Director Carmen Botelho. In four years, 250 detainees passed by Coostafe, and none of them returned to jail. Criminal recidivism rates in Brazil vary between 30 and 50%.
Based on this indicator, the Humanitas360 Institute decided to work to improve and spread this initiative in prisons across the country, acting as an incubator of startups formed within prisons and supplying cooperatives with seed funding, technical training and support in the development of the business model. The organization (H360) invests its own resources into the project, without using a single Real of public money. As a nonprofit, 100% of profit generated through product sales is transferred to the detainees and ex-detainees who are part of the cooperative.
For all of this, we call on Governor João Doria, known for his defense of entrepreneurship, to reverse the decision to suspend the project inside the penitentiaries of São Paulo.
Meanwhile, confident in the continuity of our dialogue with his government and in the warm reception of our request, we continue our work in São Paulo at Casa Tereza, the workspace for ex-detainees which we setup in Taubaté. Furthermore, with the support of the National Justice Council (CNJ), we will expand the project to Maranhão and other Brazilian states. We continue to believe in the power of entrepreneurship as a form of social reintegration of detainees–not only for humanitarian reasons, but above all in the joint effort to reduce violence in our country.