The Injustice of Brazil’s Justice System

There is an ongoing discussion in the United States about our justice system and equality, in relation to endemic racism, bias and injustice. It bears the question of just how “American” these problems are. It appears that Brazil is dealing with the same problems at the same level, if not a higher one. While people mainly talk about the Brazilian court system, there does not seem to be much conversation about what goes on within Brazil’s prisons, which has a lot to say about Brazil’s justice system.

Brazil’s prison system is internationally famous for its brutality, violence and injustice. In 2017, the New York Times published an article, documenting Brazil’s “deadly prison system.” Brazilian prisons are often run and dominated by gangs. Rivaling gangs often find themselves within the same walls. This has led to bloodshed, escapes and riots. Torture and sexual violence are also very prevalent.

Riots in Brazilian prisons appear to be quite common. The largest documented riot in a Brazilian prison was the Carandiru Massacre of 1992, where over 100 prisoners were killed. Ironically, the riot was started by a fight over a football game, the brutality and injustice runs so deep, that an event that should add some entertainment and camaraderie ended so violently. Some progress has been made in improving the prison system since then, but only interim solutions have been put in place and trials for the massacre continue today.

Although the cause of all this violent hate is not entirely clear, it may lie in the inequality that exists within society that is carried into prison. For instance, prisoners with degrees, the relatively higher ups in the socio-economic chain among the prison population, get better treatment than those without degrees. They are often given better living spaces and do not have to share cells. Among those in the lower levels of the socio-economic chain, non-violent offenders are usually paired with violent offenders. The problem may also lie in the size of the prisons. Generally, over 600,000 inmates are crowded into prisons built for around 400,000 and it is estimated that around 3,000 inmates are added each month.

There are many similarities between our prison system and Brazil’s. Like in the United States, Brazil’s prison system is predominantly comprised of poor black men. Despite all of the violence, the biggest prison time offenses for that population include drug possession and other non-violent offenses. In addition, legislation passed to help reform the prison system is not sufficiently enforced.

While Brazil’s justice system is interesting to analyze, it may also provide potential solutions. The New York Times offers this potential solution: “Rather than imposing more draconian laws and building new prisons, Brazil needs to enforce existing legislation — including ensuring that suspects are provided hearings within 24 hours of their arrest and expanding the network of public defenders.” The Times also proposes that Brazil come up with new “Strategies to decriminalize drugs, ensure proportional sentencing and provide rehabilitation for offenders.” These potential solutions could benefit not only Brazil, but also the United States. There has been great discussion dealing with the injustice of the U.S. justice system, but change lies within the discussion of potential solutions, and not just the expansion and continuation of a broken system.

Works Cited:

Muggah, Robert, and Ilona Szabó De Carvalho. “Opinion | Brazil’s Deadly Prison System.” The New York Times. January 04, 2017. Accessed February 19, 2018.

Contributors, Wikipedia. “Carandiru massacre.” Wikipedia. February 17, 2018. Accessed February 19, 2018.