Photo: Marcelo Seabra/Agência Pará

The Covid-19 pandemic placed huge social, health and economic challenges on Brazil – all of them exacerbated, to one degree or another, by the inaction or negligence of the government. Behind bars, as historically happens, the situation is even more perverse: living in conditions considered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, detainees do not have access to basic distancing and hygiene measures, adequate food or health care. 

Given the spread of the virus in the country’s prisons, several agencies and organizations demanded measures to reduce incarceration and relieve overcrowding. 

One of the most important recommendations came from the CNJ (National Justice Council) and called, among other things, for the reduction of pre-trial detention and house arrest for people in the risk group, indigenous people, pregnant women and mothers or guardians of children under 12 or with disabilities.

Given the failure to follow these guidelines and the explosion in the number of Covid-19 cases in prisons, in May 2020 the PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party) filed an ADPF Case (Allegation of Violation of a Fundamental Precept) in the Supreme Court. The case calls for basic health measures to be adopted to ensure the protection of the prison population and prison staff by the federal and state governments and the Judiciary, and for information on the health conditions in prisons to be monitored and published. 

Conectas submitted a request for admission as an amicus curiae, arguing that the bankruptcy of the system was compounded by the lack of response from the State. Besides emphasizing the non-compliance of the Judiciary with the recommendations of the CNJ, the organization cited various guidelines to control Covid-19 in prisons defended by international bodies such as the WHO (World Health Organization), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

According to Conectas, the government has also ignored national bodies and organizations such as Condege (National Council of Public Defenders), the Criminal Justice Network and the National Mechanism to Combat and Prevent Torture.

This inability of the State to address the health crisis in prisons, says Conectas, has caused violations of fundamental principles guaranteed by the Constitution, such as the dignity of the human person; the ban on torture and inhumane or degrading treatment; access to justice; the ban on cruel punishments; serving a prison sentence in an adequate facility; respect for the physical and moral integrity of incarcerated people; due legal process; the presumption of innocence; the fundamental rights to health, education and adequate food; and the protection of motherhood.

Technical information

  • Case: ADPF-684
  • Court: Supreme Court
  • Status: The case is under the rapporteurship of Justice Nunes Marques. No decision has been made on the request for urgency, nor on the request for amicus curiae status
  • Procedure:
    • 5/12/20: Initial petition filed by PSOL
    • 5/20/20: Request for Conectas to be admitted as amicus curiae