Prison Council rejects use of shipping containers to combat Covid-19 but insists on creating new places

Advisory body of the Ministry of Justice avoided any discussion of decarceration measures

The CNPCP (National Criminal and Prison Policy Council) rejected on Friday, May 15, the request made by Depen (National Prison Department), a body of the Ministry of Justice, to use iron shipping containers as prison cells during the Covid-19 pandemic. The council members did, however, decide to accept other temporary constructions.

The request submitted to the CNPCP asked for the suspension of the Basic Guidelines for Prison Architecture in order to permit the creation of new places in containers to isolate prisoners in the risk group for Covid-19, infected prisoners with minor symptoms and as temporary facilities for medical treatment.

According to Marcos Fuchs, legal director at Conectas, although it rejected the use of iron containers, the CNPCP was wrong to insist on the creation of prison places instead of rethinking Brazil’s mass incarceration policy.

“Creating new places in the prison system is an exercise in futility if you don’t seriously discuss the criminal policies that send so many people to the Brazilian prison system in the first place,” said Fuchs. “The CNPCP is an advisory body of the Ministry of Justice and it should create guidelines and policies aimed at reducing mass incarceration. In view of the challenge that the pandemic represents for prisoners and for prison workers, we urgently need to adopt decarceration measures for risk groups and for people who meet the legal requirements to serve their sentences in an open facility or under house arrest,” he added.

Brazil has more than 755,000 people in prison, according to data from Infopen, making it the country with the world’s third largest prison population. There is currently a shortfall of 313,000 places in the system.

Recommendations of the National Justice Council

In March, the CNJ (National Justice Council) published recommendations for combating the Covid-19 epidemic in prisons. The 16-article document recommends a series of actions, in particular a review of pre-trial detentions.

Considering that Brazil has 753,676 prisoners – the majority in secure facilities – the CNJ is looking for ways to reduce this number. And one method is to review the cases of the 253,963 people (33.47%) in pre-trial detention, using the provisions of Article 316 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The document lists the cases that should be given priority: pregnant or breastfeeding women, mothers or guardians with children under 12, indigenous people, the elderly and people with disabilities or who are in the risk group. After this group, people who are in prisons that are overcrowded or that do not have a medical staff will also be considered.

 CNPCPiron containers

Iron containers

Harshly criticized by civil society, the proposal to use iron containers as prison cells has a long history in Brazil and it tends to resurface as a measure to cover the shortfall of prison places and obscure the causes of mass incarceration.

Read about this history and why civil society has opposed it in a special report produced by Conectas.

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