In Supreme Court, human rights organizations call for an end to torture and overcrowding in prisons

In 2015, a full session of the Court recognized, through a preliminary injunction given in ADPF Case 347, an “unconstitutional state of affairs” in Brazil’s prison facilities; the Supreme Court will judge the case again this Wednesday

Detainees in the Triage facility at the Pedrinhas prison complex show the scars on their
feet caused by scabies. Photo taken during an inspection by the organizations
Conectas, Justiça Global and the Maranhão Society of Human Rights in April 2018. Detainees in the Triage facility at the Pedrinhas prison complex show the scars on their feet caused by scabies. Photo taken during an inspection by the organizations Conectas, Justiça Global and the Maranhão Society of Human Rights in April 2018.

The Supreme Court will judge this week the case that calls for an end to the widespread violation of human rights in Brazilian prisons. ADPF 347, filed in 2015, asks the Judiciary to recognize the “unconstitutional state of affairs” in detention facilities in order to mitigate the rights violations and torture occurring in the Brazilian prison system. 

On September 11, organizations accompanying the case as amici curiae (friends of the court) filed a brief with the court to contribute to the proceedings. They are: Pastoral Carcerária (the Catholic Church’s prisoner outreach service), Conectas Human Rights, the Brazilian Criminal Sciences Institute (IBCCRIM), the Specialized Center of the São Paulo State Public Defender’s Office (NESC), the Land, Employment and Citizenship Institute (ITTC) and the Defense of the Right to a Defense Institute (IDDD).

The points raised by the organizations were:

The increase in the prison population, which grew 372.5% from 2000 to 2022, even after the preliminary injunction granted by the Supreme Court, making Brazil the country with the world’s third largest incarcerated population. In terms of incarcerated women, Brazil used to be in fourth place, but in 2022 it rose to third place in the ranking.

Structural racism, which has been the historical mechanism used to kill young, black, poor and vulnerable people, who make up 68.2% of the prison population, thereby increasingly reinforcing inequality in the country.

Overcrowding and criminalization of poverty caused by the huge number of pre-trial detainees in Brazilian prisons, since nearly 30% of detainees have yet to be convicted. Brazil currently has around 596,162 places in the prison system, but has 832,295 incarcerated people, a situation that intensifies the structural problems within prisons, such as shortages of water and poor basic sanitation and access to healthcare, among other things.

The National Prison Fund (FUNPEN), which has faced changes that include the funding of activities unrelated to its purpose, such as the transfer of 30% of its funds to the National Public Security Fund, for example. They also noted that only 0.17% of the budget of FUNPEN was allocated to alternative sentencing policies, such as electronic tracking devices, education and work programs or support for the return to life outside prison, in order to reinforce the exceptional nature of prison sentences and mitigate the problems facing the Brazilian prison system.

The lack of data and transparency for the formulation of public policies, as the information panel of DEPEN (National Prison Department) – now SENAPPEN (National Prison Policy Secretariat) – does not enable an understanding of the methodology used to measure the indicators, which exacerbates the lack of clarity since there is no comparison with prior data. As such, it is impossible to specifically identify, in terms of their needs, who is pregnant, LGBTQIAPN+, foreign, elderly, indigenous or disabled, as all these people are included within a single category under “specific groups”.

The responsibility of the Judiciary, which has not been fulfilling its duty to guarantee the rights of persons deprived of liberty. On account of omissions and interpretations that breach the Constitution, unlawful arrests are made every day and prison inspection visits are not carried out with any regularity. Harsher sentencing measures have taken precedence and, as such, the Judiciary has closed its eyes to the countless structural problems present in the prison system.

In view of these points, the civil society organizations that signed the amicus brief concluded that the problem of the unconstitutional state of affairs in the Brazilian prison system was not resolved by the measures adopted by the Supreme Court since 2015. On the contrary: the situation in the country’s prisons is becoming increasingly beset with illegalities and violence.

As such, the organizations called for the requests made in the ADPF case to be granted in full, including in all the assessment and implementation stages with the assistance of the National Justice Council, through its Department of Monitoring and Oversight of the Prison System and the Youth Detention System (DMF).

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