São Paulo government denies education to prisoners
700 inmates at the Santana Women's Penitentiary work during the day and want to study at night
On Tuesday, February 18, the Public Defender’s Office, Conectas, Ação Educativa, the Praxis Institute, the Land, Employment and Citizenship Institute and the Pastoral Carcerária prison care service will meet with the São Paulo state government in a conciliation hearing to discuss the right to education for 700 female inmates at the Santana penitentiary.
According to data from 2013 from the Prison Administration Department, only 202 of the prison’s 2568 inmates study. A report by Ação Educativa reveals that the main problem is that the classes are only held during working hours: nearly 40% of the women who do not attend classes say the main reason is the lack of time during the day.
The solution is very simple: implement evening classes at the prison, something that is already offered in other facilities in the state. The government, however, has been intransigent in the case of the Santana penitentiary. The hearing on February 18, the result of a lawsuit filed by the organizations in April 2012, may be the turning point in this process.
“In addition to being a constitutional right and duty of the State, education is one of the most important ways for the prisoners, once released, to find new employment opportunities. Moreover, it is an important way to have their sentences remitted, since every three days spent in education means one day less in prison,” said Ester Rizzi, a lawyer at Ação Educativa.
At the Santana Women’s Penitentiary, only 14% of the inmates have completed primary education.
Regina Maria Jacovaz, the state prosecutor who is defending the São Paulo administration, stated in a document contesting the lawsuit that “the number of maximum security and high risk prisoners stands at 30%, which leads us to conclude that there will be a major possibility for an outbreak of plans for mass escape”.
Jacovaz goes even further, suggesting that the prisoners do not need to work during the day: “Concerning the argument that the prisoners need funds for their families, it should be considered that government programs exist to cover this need, such as the Imprisonment Assistance, Citizen Income and Family Grant programs”.
According to Rafael Custódio, coordinator of Justice at Conectas, “there is no allowance for risk in the legislation and even there were, it would never be sufficient to obstruct the exercise of a fundamental right”. “It is also important to point out that, since we are dealing with a right, it is up to the prisoner to decide whether to exercise it, not the State. It is truly incomprehensible that the São Paulo government has decided to limit classes for these women, to the detriment of those who work,” he added.
What the law says
The Federal Constitution of 1988, in article 205, prohibits discrimination in the provision of education and specifically mentions the case of people in detention. In international law, this matter is also addressed in the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1957), the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (1985) and the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (1990).
In this last instrument, the UN General Assembly was emphatic in establishing, in the sixth principle, that “all prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality”.