Note from BW of Brazil: If you’ve been paying attention to the news concerning Brazil’s prison system as of late, you know that saying that authorities have a major problem on its hands would be an extreme understatement. Just since the turn of the new year we’ve seen three major riots and outbreaks of violence that have led to the death of around 110 inmates in the three different penitentiaries, in the states of Amazonas, Rio Grande Do Norte and Romaima. While Brazil’s prison industrial complex continues to ineffectively deal with the problem of overcrowding and gang rivalries within the prisons, the shocking murders continue.
On January 7th, this blog covered the uprising in the Amazonas that led to the murder of 56 inmates and the escape of several others. Since then, on January 6th, we saw 31 inmates murdered in the Penitenciária Agrícola de Monte Cristo prison in the state of Roraima, followed by another 10 prisoners murdered on the 14th in the Penitenciária Estadual de Alcaçuz, in Nísia Floresta, in metropolitan Natal, the capital city of the state of Rio Grande do Norte.
In each of the cases we find similar details. The first being rival gang factions within the prison. The second being murders, many by decapitation. And third, prisons being filled beyond capacity. In the case of Rio Grande do Norte, the prison capacity is 620 but it houses more than 1,200 prisoners. In Roraima, there 1,475 prisoners being house in a facility made for 750 detainees. A fourth issue that continuously emerges is provisórios prisoners, or those prisoners who are still awaiting judgement. In Rio Grande do Norte’s prison system, 35% of detainees are awaiting judgement. In Roraima’s Agrícola de Monte Cristo prison, 898 of 1,475, or 61% of prisoners, await judgement.
Yet another side of Brazil’s participation in the construction of the prison planet is the gender side of the issue. Brazil is now the country with the fourth highest total of prisoners in the world and a growing percentage of detainees are women. And black women are the majority of the prison population, totaling 68% of all female prisoners. Almost exactly a year ago, we brought you a story showing that 100% of female prisoners in the state of Acre are black women. In terms of incarcerated black women, the state of Ceará followed with 94% of female prisoners being black, with Bahia coming in third with 92%. We can now add the nation’s capital to the list of regions in which black women are disproportionately incarcerated. See the story below…
The color of punishment
Courtesy of Metrópoles
The skin is the largest organ of the human body. It is also the heaviest. The burden goes beyond anatomy, especially for blacks. Their color predominates within the orange uniforms of the prisons in (the capital city of) Brasília, both in the female and in the male wings. But among them are the most alarming figures. In the Brasília Federal District region, in 2007, there were 377 women in prison. Today, they total 12,600; a growth of 3,242%. Among the detainees, 81% are black. The data are part of an unprecedented survey by the Ministry of Justice to reveal the profile of incarcerated women, released in November.
The absolute population of women imprisoned in the Brazilian penitentiary system grew 567% between 2000 and 2014, reaching 37,380 detainees. The number of incarcerated men grew 220% over the same period. “The prevalence of certain profiles of women (low education and black women) in the prison system reveals the discrepancy of the trends of female incarceration in the country, and reinforces the already well-known profile of the general prison population,” the Justice Ministry said in the study.
Public security stalks those that education ignored. More than half of the detainees have only completed an elementary education, which doesn’t mean that they can read or write without difficulty, and only 1% have completed higher education. Among them, 25% are between 18 and 24 years old. Twenty-four percent of these women are between 25 and 29 years of age.
The anthropologist Debora Diniz learned the routine of the women prisoners to write the book Cadeia (jail). “Making only a relationship between poverty and crime would be wrong and superficial. It’s necessary to know that there is a permanent selectivity of the penal system with respect to the população negra (black population). This selectivity causes many mulheres negras (black women) to begin and end their adult life in a prison, which is the portrait of racial inequality in Brazil. The majority of blacks in prisons is no coincidence: inequality has color.” Authorities at the women’s prison, such as the director, doctors and social workers, are white.
Jail is a lonelier place for women. At Presídio Feminino do DF (Women’s Prison of the Federal District, also known as Colméia), 65% of prisoners are single, at least on paper. A good part of them lived in informal relationships. It is rare to find men in the visitation line. Most detainees (52%) are there because of drug trafficking. Many practiced crime on behalf of incarcerated boyfriends or husbands. The following accounts give voices, faces and stories to cold statistics. They are testimonies collected by Metrópoles among women who have been behind bars or who are in a regime aberto (open regime) (1).
Deusilene Mendes da Silva, 43, is better known as Deusa. She shares the house where she lives, in Samambaia (2), with several relatives. In 2006, she opened her home to her nephew and his wife. The girl used drugs, and Deusa expelled them both from her home. Days later, the couple tried to stab the wife of one of Deusilene’s nephews. Deusa ended up taking the blame for the attempted murder. In 2009, she was tried in absentia, as the lawyer she hired didn’t tell her about the two hearings in the case.
Deusa came home from work, where she was a maid, when she saw two policemen at the door of her house. She was taken to Colméia. She spent two years in a regime fechado (closed regime) (1) and alleges her innocence. “Justice is slow and I never knew how to (make an) appeal. I’m holding my head high, anyway. I finished my studies inside (elementary school), I didn’t give anyone work. The truth is that the darkest person is the most discriminated against. Everything bad happens, they say: ‘Foi aquele neguinho’ (it was that little black one). The pardo (brown) still suffers less.”
Deusa says she respects prison officers and fellow prisoners. She studied most of her time and worked in the cleaning of the jail and the kitchen to keep out of trouble and try to reduce her sentence. Today, Deusa is in an open regime. She works as a maid in the Fundação de Amparo ao Trabalhador Preso (Funap or Foundation for the Support of the Inmate Worker). She must be home by 10:00 p.m. Deusa wants to realize her dream of adolescence: to study to be a lawyer.
* In video connected to this report, the two women in the above photo expressed their opinions on certain topics, including their experiences with police. Iara says that she was arrested for the first time at age 12, living on the streets. Police approached her and ask: “What are doing here, neguinha (little black girl)?” She continued speaking on racism: “If Nailma and I are sitting talking and there are two white women there talking, for sure the police will approach us.” Nailma spoke on police using their authority to mistreat, curse, beat, pepper spray people.
- Regime fechado or ‘closed regime’ refers to a situation in which a prisoner remain
- s imprisoned the entire day and only comes out to work in special cases. Regime aberto or ‘open regime’ refers to a situation in which a prisoner works outside during the day and spends the day in a shelter or their own home.
- An administrative region of the Federal District. According to 2013 data, Samambaia had a population of about 220,000