Photo: Marcelo Seabra/Agência Pará

The spread of Covid-19 in Brazilian prisons worsened the already terrible conditions and underscored the urgency of the measures to reduce overcrowding. In Maranhão, the situation was no different: the state, which is already the target of a precautionary measure from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the condition of its prison system, was operating 135% overcapacity, with a shortfall of 1,500 prison places, in January 2020, according to data from the Maranhão State Prison Administration Department.  

The state only has shared cells, making observance of any type of social distancing measure impossible. In addition to space, the prisons lack basic hygiene items, access to medical care, water, medicine and adequate food. 

Faced with this situation, the State Public Defender’s Office filed a collective habeas corpus petition on behalf of 154 people held in secure prison facilities who are in the risk group for Covid-19.

Conectas was admitted as an amicus curiae in the case and argued that the systemic and ongoing crisis in prisons, recognized by the Supreme Court as an “unconstitutional state of affairs”, was made more severe by Covid-19. 

According to the organization, keeping people from the risk group in secure facilities constitutes an illegal constraint because it subjects them to an unreasonable situation of risk, by putting their lives and the lives of prison staff in real danger.

In addition to Recommendation 62 issued by the National Justice Council, the amicus brief submitted by Conectas drew on guidelines from several international bodies – in particular those of the WHO (World Health Organization), the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 

The habeas corpus petition was denied by the State Court of Maranhão.

Technical information

  • Case: Collective HC 0803763-25.2020.8.10.0000
  • Court: State Court of Maranhão
  • Status: Judgment completed. The habeas corpus petition was denied by the trial court and on appeal.
  • Procedure:
    • 3/26/20: Habeas corpus petition is filed
    • 4/7/20: Trial court judge denies the petition
    • 5/28/20: Conectas files request for amicus curiae status