Monday, November 26, 2007

The Appalling Conditions of Prisons in Brazil

Over the weekend, news came out about reports that a 15 year old girl who had been arrested in the northern state of Pará had been repeatedly abused and raped by police in return for food.
The story is atrocious, but just one more appalling report on what may very well be one of the worst prison systems in the world, between the overcrowding, the corruption (political and police), the gang violence within the prisons, the extremely-unequal treatment (the wealthy rarely go to prison for the same crimes that land the poor in jail for 10-30 years), and the torture and abuse of prisoners. Randy goes into depth here, and has some excellent commentary well worth checking out.

Like Randy, I'm extremely skeptical that the case will be sufficiently investigated and those responsible dealt with appropriately. The only thing I would add to Randy's commentary is that the fact that anything will be done is reduced even further by two factors. First, the girl is most likely poor (charging a teen with theft and throwing them in jail is generally treatment only the poor, who have little-to-no recourse to serious legal aid, receive). Thus, her probable class status makes punishment extremely unlikely. Added to this, Pará is one of the few strongholds of the old political model of coronelismo, in which local landed elites and politicians are in bed together (or even one and the same), and are basically able to manipulate local politics in ways they see as optimal to their own interests. While this model is no way as strong as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries, it hasn't gone away from the North, and quite frankly, I just don't see the political and landed elites really mustering up much more outrage than to verbally condemn the act once and then forget about it. The report is extremely disturbing, and it is frustrating that these conditions exist in Brazil. Given the extreme apathy and even open antipathy among the middle-class, elites, and politicians throughout the country towards the poor and towards criminals among here, the most frustrating aspect to me is that there is no evidence or sign that anything will even change in the slightest to address the extremely serious prison problem here.