Note from BW of Brazil: Brazil is quickly increasing its stake in a “prison planet”. This is one conclusion that one could come if we take a quick glance and the reports and numbers. The numbers also paint a grim future for the black poor population. According to one May 2015 report, of Brazil’s 720,000 prisoners (1), 70% are black, young and poor while 80% of the victims of homicides are black and poor. Another alarming fact is that 13 of Brazil’s 26 states saw imprisonment growth above than the national average. When we consider the controversial topic of Brazilian lawmakers pushing to reduce the age in which a person could be prosecuted as an adult from 18 to 16 years of age, one must wonder what agenda is behind these actions. The aforementioned legislation would mean that some children would be tried as adults and face the same criminal penalties and consequently sent to adult prisons.
Brazil’s prisons are known for violence, overcrowding and its subhuman conditions, which contributed to a morbid, headline-making scandal in one northeastern state early in 2014. In previous articles, we have approached the topics of prison privatization and the inhumane practice of genital orifice searches of women. Today, we take another peek inside the numbers that hint at the age, race, gender and class of prisoners in the country that has the fourth largest prison population in the world.
The imprisoned woman in Brazil is young, black and with low education
Latest report on the increase of the prison population in Brazil shows that in seven years the imprisonment of women grew by 146%
Courtesy of PCO
Each study has a more alarming rate than the other. Last year the report from the Instituto Avanço Brasil (Institute Advancement Brazil) that took stock of the increase of the prison population in Brazil between 2000 and 2012 was released.
Now, on Wednesday (3) the study “Mapa do Encarceramento: os Jovens do Brasil” (Mapping Incarceration: the Youth of Brazil) was released by the General Secretariat of the Presidency, which covers the period 2005-2012.
In this report it was shown that the female prison population has grown 146%. Overall growth was 74% in those seven years, driven by the arrest of blacks, women and young people. Being that 18.7% of the 515,482 didn’t need to be imprisoned, they weren’t convicted, “as they are in the profile to which the Código de Processo Penal (Criminal Procedure Code) provides for compliance with alternative sentences,” as the text of the report says.
What draws attention in the report is the growth of the prison population in Minas Gerais, the country’s largest. There the number of prisoners increased by 624%. And, as the report itself says, this is because “the programs aimed at qualified crackdown on crimes against life and privatized prisons.”
The report also states that “the joint analysis of the incarceration rates and the state of homicide rates indicates that arrest more does not necessarily reduce the crimes against life, because policing policies focus on property and drug crimes.”
Defending the decriminalization of drugs
The so-called “drug crimes” are the ones that most motivate women’s imprisonment.
Total drug trafficking accounts for 70% of prisons in the country, the percentage among women is right around this at around 60% to 70%.
As pointed out in an interview with Causa Operária, the chief judge of the Tribunal de Justiça de São Paulo (Tribunal Court of São Paulo), Kenarik Boujikian Felippe, “generally they are trapped by problems related to the issue of narcotics. Most are imprisoned for this reason. The second reason is theft, damage to property without violence. They are young; a large percentage has children; a large percentage has not completed elementary school. Ie, they are poor. They are abandoned after they go to prison… “
According to the federal judge, “the woman who is head of a household needs work, so she ends up taking a job that was that of a man: the sale of drugs. Most are denounced for the sale of small quantities.”
The vice-coordinator of the Pastoral Carcerária Nacional, lawyer Petra Silvia Pfaller explains that “women are increasingly entering the world of the drug trade. In most cases, they become involved in this process because of their children and partners. There are numerous cases in which police enter the house after their partners and they find there only women and drugs. Mothers, wives and families are arrested, although the drugs are not theirs.”
For men, 52% of prisoners convicted for some sort of crime against property and drug trafficking accounts for 22%.
Only these data are sufficient in order that the decriminalization of drugs being a demand of the women’s movement. This is a moral crime, just like as abortion.
Young, black and with low education
2012 data from the Ministry of Justice show that 49% of the imprisoned are between 18 and 29 years of age, 39% are between 30 and 45 and 12% are over 46. Regarding education, 44% had not finished elementary school and only 3% had entered a university. The negras e pardas (black and brown women) are the majority within the prison units in the country and account for 61% of inmates.
In the same year, the prison system had 408 children, with 318 (78%) of them being up to six months. Usually after that date the child leaves the prison and custody ends up with grandparents, because the women were abandoned by their partners, or are they also imprisoned.
There are virtually no day cares and the number of beds for women is very low. Still based on 2012 figures, this time the Conselho Nacional de Justiça (CNJ or National Council of Justice), the Brazilian prison system has only 15 specialists in this field to tend to all the prisoners – the equivalent of one professional for every group of 2,335 women.
Among the minors that fulfill the “socio-educational” measures the problems are not much different. They are just over 600 in the country, 4% of interned adolescents. Perhaps because of it they receive so little attention.
According to Luis Geraldo Lanfredi, coordinator in the area of educational measures for young offenders of CNJ, “there are no suitable institutions, physical infrastructure or specialized resources to tend to these adolescents, either because the number of girls interned is lower, being because they generally don’t create many problems.” To know how these girls live the CNJ commissioned a study from the University of Pernambuco. Among the findings is the issue of the invisibility of these girls.
The prison system and women
The attack promoted by bourgeois governments against the prisoners and the absurd increase in the prison population is a direct attack on the democratic rights of the population. As has been said by this journal, “the prison system is a direct reflection of the bankruptcy of the capitalist system, on the one hand it represses, exploits and mistreats the population, while the real killers and robbers of the people, bankers and big capitalists, continue free sustaining a regime of extreme repression for a part of the population and total impunity to another, privileged.”
If for the men the prison system is hard and cruel, for women the situation is even more serious. The system was not made thinking about them. Their needs are not addressed. It’s no wonder that so many complaints appear since women have to use the crumbs given for the lack of sanitary pads, even physical violence, rape, and the case of women shackled during childbirth, as occurred in São Paulo.
But these denouncements have served not to think about specific policies or new laws that reduce the repressive policy of the state, such the decriminalization of drugs. On the contrary, they serve to discuss the introduction of tougher penalties (as is being foreseen in the reform of the Brazilian Penal Code) and the privatization of prisons; which serves only to increase the prison population as we saw in the case of Minas Gerais.
1. An increase of about 140,000 since the end of 2013.