Government outside the law

Governor Alckmin flouts law that bans abusive searches: there are just four scanners for 168 prison facilities

09/01/2017 abusive search alckmin body scanner prison system sap

Three years after the approval of the law the bans abusive searches of visitors to São Paulo state prisons, the relatives of prisoners continue to be subjected to these searches in nearly 98% of the state’s prison facilities. 

This is what can be inferred from data obtained through the Freedom of Information Law. Of the 168 prison facilities in the state, only four have functioning body scanners. These are the Pre-Trial Detention Centers I, II, III and IV of Pinheiros, in the city of São Paulo. This means that in 97.62% of the state’s prisons there is no mechanical inspection equipment.

The law that bans intimate searches of visitors has been in place since 2014 and it requires the installation of equipment to replace physical contact. Three years later, what we can see is a lack of machines and the continuation of abusive search procedures.

“It is outrageous that SAP [São Paulo State Prison Administration Department] uses the installation of body scanners as a condition to end abusive searches. The law was signed three years ago and what we see is the continuation of this abhorrent and ineffective procedure that violates the privacy of visitors,” said Rafael Custódio, coordinator of the Justice program at Conectas Human Rights. “Moreover, there are a series of doubts about the ability of the State to keep this equipment in working order, since both the acquisition and the maintenance require a sizable and ongoing investment.”

According to the authorities, abusive searches are performed to prevent drugs, weapons and mobile phone chips from entering prisons. But research conducted by the Criminal Justice Network based on documents supplied by SAP showed that only 0.03% of visitors were caught with contraband, i.e. 3 out of every 10,000 visitors. There were no cases of attempts to smuggle in weapons. The research used data gathered by the government in the months of February, March and April in the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Law No. 15,552 of August 12, 2014 forbids any search procedure that requires the visitor to undress, squat, jump up and down or be subjected to invasive clinical inspections. And it institutes mechanical searches with the help of body scanners, metal detectors, x-ray devices and other technologies that preserve the physical, psychological and moral integrity of the visitor being searched.

SAP argues that a bidding process is in place for the rental 165 body scanners to be allocated to 126 of the state’s prison facilities and that the equipment is expected to be installed by February 2018.

In 2014, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, said that abusive searches violate the Convention against Torture of 1984, which was ratified by Brazil in 1989. According to Mendez, abusive searches “come under the prohibition of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Any action by the State that humiliates a person is a violation of this prohibition.”