According to the second edition of the Infopen Mulheres survey, which was released quietly by the Ministry of Justice this Friday, May 11, Brazil rose from fifth to fourth on the list of countries with the highest female incarcerated population around the world.
The nationwide survey, which considers gender in the prison system, counted 42,355 incarcerated women in June of 2016, taking Brazil ahead of Thailand (41,119) in the global ranking. Only the United States (211,870), China (107,131) and Russia (48,478) have larger female incarcerated populations than Brazil.
The majority of the incarcerated women are young people aged 18 to 29 (50%) and are black (62%).
Among these five countries, however, Brazil stands out for its growing rate of female incarceration, which increased 455% from 2000 to 2016. The rates of rest of the countries listed did not rise more than 20% in the same period, with the exception of China, which rose 105%. Russia, on the other hand, reduced its female incarceration rate by 2%.
“The growth in the population of incarcerated women in Brazil is directly related to the current Drug Law, passed in 2006. The legislation has huge gaps and in the majority of cases, judges opt for incarceration even when it is not necessary, rather than applying alternative sentences,” explains Henrique Apolinário, lawyer in the Institutional Violence program at Conectas. “This has lead to the incarceration of a contingent of women, who are mostly black and at-risk, that play an insignificant role in the drug traffic but end up being charged heavily,” he concludes.
In the ten years since the Drug Law was passed, the number of incarcerated women grew by 145%. In the same period, the number of detained women charged for drug-related crimes grew 207%, reaching nearly 18,000 people (62%). These numbers represent three out of every five incarcerated women.
The high rate of provisional incarceration is alarming. 45% of incarcerated women are awaiting trial, according to the new Infopen survey. This means that nearly half of the incarcerated women in Brazil today are in jail but have not been convicted of a crime.
In some states the numbers are even more alarming, such as Amazonas (81%), Sergipe (79%) and Bahia (71%).
The new survey presents information on the offspring of only 7% of incarcerated women (2,689 people). Among those surveyed, 74% are mothers.
However small the sample, the numbers align with the experience of those that have contact with the prison system and see that the majority of the women who commit crimes do so in order to guarantee minimum subsistence for their children.
Regardless of whether or not incarcerated women are mothers, terrifying research shows that in eight Brazilian states, the Women’s Prisons do not have a specific visitation area. This makes receiving visitors all the more difficult. Among the 26 federal prisons, only six reported that they had prisons with visiting areas.
“Concern about visitation conditions for these women goes beyond Mother’s Day, even though this is an important symbolic date. It is a well known fact that time with family is important for the recuperation and reinsertion of an incarcerated person into society,” Apolinario explains. “In Brazil, incarcerated women are often very solitary, having been abandoned in many cases by their husbands, families and friends. For this reason, the State should guarantee appropriate conditions for visitation and facilitate visits from the few people who do still care about them.”