Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Legal Changes in Brazil

Two weeks ago, I commented on the difficulties facing Brazilian jurists who might seek to change the penal code in the wake of the violent dragging death of a 6-year-old boy. However, events late last week have revealed a strong desire for some modifications on the part of Brazilian jurists.

As I pointed out before, one of the challenges in the legal code was the hard-and-fast rule of 18 as the dividing line between being tried as an adult and as a child. However, two separate (but nearly identical) bills made their way through the Senate and the House of Deputies last week. Both of these bills seek to amend the penal code to address instances of crime in which an adult (18+) participates in criminal activity with a minor (under-18). The bills propose an additional 15-year sentence for what is effectively the “corruption of a minor” in criminal activity. Such a change would not directly affect the sentencing of the minor. However, the thought is that such a law may decrease the amount of adult-minor crimes, for it punishes the adult heavily, while still leaving room for rehabilitation for the minor. Additionally, while it is not as crystal-clear yet, there is also discussion of perhaps increasing the delinquent sentencing to five years

The future of theses bills is uncertain. Logic seems to indicate they will be put into effect, but politics isn’t always the realm of logic. Additionally, they are far from perfect. The idea of increasing a minor’s sentence to five years will do nothing to address the fact that many of these minors enter into broader criminal networks while they are in juvenile prisons (and there is still the issue of whether they can even live through their sentencing, given how violent and uncontrolled some of these centers are). Nonetheless, these efforts are still encouraging and constructive, for they are well thought out, and still leave room for rehabilitation of those under 18 while discouraging those over 18 to participate in criminal activity with a minor in order to blame the minor for the more violent acts (and thus try to receive a lesser sentence).

There are also two interesting political sidenotes to these recent developments. First, one of the two bills has been in circulation since 2002, when a representative from President Lula’s PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores) suggested such a change. The other bill is actually authored by a member of the PFL (Partido do Frente Liberal), the most right-wing of the major parties in Brazil. What’s somewhat telling here is that the idea of penal modifications has been present for quite awhile, yet only with the recent outrage from all of Brazilian society has the bill for penal modifications gained support from right-wing and centrist sectors of the Congress.

Secondly, while legal change is encouraging, it is worth pointing out how true Lula’s comments were last week. The problem isn’t the two young men who committed the dragging-death crime; the problem is the vast inequalities in Brazilian society that lead to such criminal activity in the hopes of getting a better material life. Until the inequalities are addressed, the problem will remain the proverbial 800-lb. gorilla.