Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening, but many states made efforts to improve conditions. Abuse by prison guards continued to occur at many facilities. The Catholic Church’s Penitentiary Commission, linked to the country’s National Conference of Bishops, reported 25 cases of torture in prisons and police stations from January through the end of March, compared with 70 in all of 2010. Poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.
According to the Ministry of Justice’s Penitentiary Information Integrated System (InfoPen), 84 deaths occurred inside prisons between January and June, of which 11 were of a criminal nature.
Prisoners had access to potable water, but sanitary conditions were often inadequate. Prisoners who committed petty crimes were held with murderers. Overcrowding was a problem. According to the National Council of Justice (CNJ), in August there were 471,528 prisoners incarcerated in a prison system designed for approximately 333,000. According to a local NGO and official data, 44 percent of all detainees were awaiting trial.
In August the CNJ reported that the Anibal Bruno prison in Recife held 4,900 prisoners in a facility designed for 1,400. On September 9, five prisoners were killed in gang-related violence in the Serra Azul prison in Sao Paulo State; at the time of the killings, there were 1,530 prisoners in a facility with a capacity of 730.
While authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, overcrowding often required holding convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. Abuses continued in municipal jails and detention centers throughout the country.
The state of Rio de Janeiro took steps to address torture and other problems in its prison system. In March state authorities ordered all police-operated jails to be closed. They also ordered the closure of Polinter de Neves, a state prison intake facility, which was the subject of an Organization of American States investigation in 2009. However, approximately 3,000 inmates remained at the facility due to a lack of vacancies elsewhere. In a 2010 inspection of Polinter de Neves, 80 prisoners were found in a cell designed for 13.
Espirito Santo State has constructed 25 new prisons during the last decade and closed most of its older prisons. Espirito Santo, like Rio de Janeiro State, also ordered the closure of its police-run jails. The Sao Paulo State Secretariat for Penitentiary Systems reported that during the year five new prisons were built in the state and 16 more were under construction. In 2010 and 2011, the CNJ conducted reviews of more than 295,000 criminal cases, resulting in the release of almost 22,000 prisoners.
In December 2010 the International Center for Prison Studies estimated the nationwide female prison population at approximately 34,700 inmates. The situation in the Santana Women’s Penitentiary in Sao Paulo remained poor, although there were some improvements in health care and food quality. The prison has a capacity of 1,200 prisoners; early in the year it held 2,700 women.
Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo states and the Federal District provided separate prison facilities for women; elsewhere, according to the Catholic Church’s Penitentiary Commission, women occasionally were held with men in some facilities.
Women who give birth in prison or are the mothers of newborns when arrested are permitted to keep their babies with them in the facility for six months. At the Santana Penitentiary in Sao Paulo, mothers and their babies were housed in the hospital center, on the same compound as the prison.
The federal constitution prevents minors from being tried as adults and incarcerated in federal, state, or city prisons. Crimes or misdemeanors committed by minors are classified as infractions and recorded in the National Registry of Adolescents in Conflict with the Law. From January through June, 91,321 adolescents were placed on the registry for various crimes. The penalties for such acts are classified as socio-educational measures. Of those placed on the registry, 29,506 received such penalties.
By law juveniles should not be held together in jails with adults, but this was not always respected in practice. The CNJ’s Justice to Youth program, adopted in 20 states, is designed to ensure that adolescent criminals are treated differently from adult criminals. Multiple sources reported adolescents jailed with adults in poor and crowded conditions. Insufficient capacity in juvenile detention centers was widespread. In October there were 18,196 adolescents in detention centers, a 4.5 percent increase compared with the same period in 2010.
In July a law allowing judges to prescribe alternate sentences, including ankle bracelet monitoring and home arrest, to minor offenders came into effect. The law was intended to reduce overcrowding.
The government’s National System of Socio-Educational Services (SINASE) provides rules standardizing the legal proceedings involving minors. SINASE oversaw improvements to juvenile detention centers, such as requiring a maximum of three adolescents per room and encouraging physical activity.
In 2006 the Center for the Socio-Educational Care of the Adolescent began dismantling large out-of-date detention centers and building smaller facilities for easier management of the inmate population. Two new centers opened in August, bringing the number of such facilities to 57. Each new center had space for 56 adolescents. The creation of small units reduced the recidivism rate, which dropped from 29 percent in 2006 to 12.8 percent in 2010, while the number of riots fell to four reported during the year.
Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors. Human rights observers reported that some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams. Prisoners were permitted religious observance and could submit complaints to judicial authorities. Government policy permits prison visits by independent human rights observers, and this policy generally was followed. There also were state-level ombudsman offices and the federal Secretariat for Human Rights (SDH) to monitor prison and detention center conditions.
Under federal law all convicted prisoners are authorized to work, and educational opportunities should be made available. Nevertheless, nationwide only 14 percent of prisoners worked and 8 percent took part in educational activities, according to InfoPen. To address the lack of educational opportunities, the CNJ offered a program called New Beginnings to provide educational and work opportunities for inmates.
In many states educational opportunities are supplied by the respective state secretariats of education. According to the Catholic Church’s Penitentiary Commission, which has constitutional authority to visit inmates at their request, only 7.5 percent of prisoners in the Sao Paulo prison system had access to educational opportunities. On May 23, the Sao Paulo state government announced the creation of the Virtual School for Educational Programs of Sao Paulo, replacing face-to-face prisoner-teacher interactions with virtual technologies aimed at making classes more accessible to inmates.
On June 30, President Rousseff modified the Law of Penal Execution, mandating that inmates have a day removed from their sentences for every 12 hours they attend classes.