BRASILIA, Brazil — The disturbing state of Brazil’s prison system has human rights advocates clamoring for significant reform. Many wallow in overcrowded prisons surrounded by violent inmates waiting for months before seeing a judge.
When an individual is arrested they are held for a brief period of time before having access to a judge to understand what it is they are charged with. Normally, this initial detention can last for a few hours or several days.
But, in the Brazilian prison system, many are held for several months before being granted the opportunity to stand in front of a judge. This has human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch clamoring for Brazil to crackdown on the prison system and bring it in line with international norms.
In the large São Paulo state prison, most of the individuals detained do not see a judge for close to three months. This flies in the face of established treaties regarding the treatment of detainees.
Various treaties, which Brazil is a signatory of, clearly state the right of detainees to be presented to a judge with little delay. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights.
Other countries within the region fall in line with established international norms regarding detainee treatment. Argentina, Chile, and Columbia all present the detainee to a judge within 6, 24 and 36 hours respectively. This includes if a criminal is arrested while a criminal act is in progress.
In Brazil, if a criminal is arrested during the criminal act, only the police files are required to be presented to the judge, not the actual detainee. The detained individual has no ability to influence the judges decision, which is based solely on the reports presented to him/her.
After the criminal is caught, the law states that a period of 60 days must pass before their first hearing with a judge. Human Rights Watch points out that the time this period starts is not specified in the law. The human rights implications of detainee mistreatment compound when the staggering amount of violence and murder in Brazilian prisons is considered.
Since January of 2013, 218 inmates have been murdered in the Brazilian prison system, which has the fourth highest prison population in the world.
The prisons are extremely overcrowded with over 550,000 inmates. The total holding capacity of the entire system is estimated to be at 300,000.
Further complicating the issue, is the prisoner’s the lack of access to lawyers. Most are simply unable to afford a proper defense and lawyers are overloaded with cases. In Sãu Paulo’s criminal court, there are 2,500 cases are pending for each lawyer.
For several years, Brazilian lawmakers have been debating reforming their detention codes. The law being considered would make it obligatory for the detainee to be granted a hearing within 24 hours of being arrested.
– Zack Lindberg