The risks of Covid-19 in prisons: Know Conectas’s actions

Learn about the actions of the organization to contain the effects of Covid-19 among the prison population

Given the spread of Covid-19, several groups have shown to be vulnerable to infection, among them the prison population. See 5 actions taken by Conectas to reduce the impacts.

As the number of infections and deaths from the novel coronavirus started to rise in other countries and the severity of the pandemic and its potential impacts on Brazil became apparent, various civil society organizations concerned with the inhumane conditions in Brazilian prisons recognized the high risks to which prisoners are exposed.

Overcrowding, poor hygiene conditions and difficult access to medical services make prisons an environment conducive to the spread of Covid-19, with a direct impact on detainees, prison officers and the rest of society.

Together with its partners, Conectas has been working to demand measures to contain the effects of the disease among the prison population, which is already the third largest in the world. The measures should include alternatives to incarceration for risk groups (over 60s, the immunosuppressed and people with pre-existing illnesses), pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, women with children under 12 and people who have been convicted of non-violent crimes, including drug trafficking.

Despite the fact that the CNJ (National Justice Council) has issued a strong recommendation for decarceration measures in order to reduce contagion in prison facilities, the authorities remain resistant.

See below five actions taken by Conectas to reduce the impacts of coronavirus in the prison system:


1 – Decarceration of vulnerable prisoners and transfer to house arrest

The Criminal Justice Network, a group of organizations of which Conectas is part, has compiled a list of urgent measures that need to be adopted.

They include the immediate decarceration of people with pre-existing illnesses, people over 60, mothers and guardians of children under 12, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers – as provided for in the Legal Framework for Early Childhood.

The Network is also calling for the transfer of people charged with non-violent crimes to house arrest.

2 – Participation in legal case in the Superior Court of Justice calling for release of at-risk prisoners

In partnership with the organizations ITTC (Land, Labor and Citizenship Institute), Elas Existem and Pastoral Carcerária, Conectas asked the Superior Court of Justice that it may appear as an amicus curiae – to make technical contributions in court decisions – in the habeas corpus class action filed by the São Paulo Public Defender’s Office calling for the release of at-risk prisoners.

3 – Technical insights in Supreme Court case calling for measures to ensure the health of prisoners and prison officers

Conectas filed another request for amicus curiae status in the Supreme Court in ADPF Case 347 that recognizes the “Unconstitutional State of Affairs” in the Brazilian prison system – requesting urgent measures to ensure the health of prisoners and prison officers.

4 – Working together with torture prevention bodies in prisons

Conectas has worked to help the MNPCT (National Mechanism to Combat and Prevent Torture) and the CNPCT (National Committee to Combat and Prevent Torture) issue decisive recommendations to this effect and, on the international level, it has contributed with insights to the position of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

5 – Partnership with Public Defender’s Office for individual protection of prisoners at risk of infection

Considering the legal situation of prisoners who did not benefit from the class action rulings, Conectas established a strategy with the Public Defender’s Office and other civil society organizations, such as the Pro Bono Institute, to focus on individual actions. Among these actions, priority has been given to cases of people who are entitled to serve their sentences under house arrest, such as cases of people convicted of ‘non-heinous drug trafficking’ (small-time dealers and first-time offenders) to sentences of less than 5 years. These requests take into account the legislative changes made recently by the Anti-Crime Law and the decisions of courts that recognize this right of people convicted of this crime.

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