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Nonviolent Convicts with No Prior Records Are Overloading Prisons

01/16/2017 - 13h46

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FERNANDA MENA
LEANDRO MACHADO
FROM SÃO PAULO

Brazil's criminal justice system is dysfunctional and has overloaded the country's prisons with inmates without prior records, nonviolent and with no apparent connection with criminal gangs.

Many of those who have entered Brazilian prisons since 2006 are charged under the Drug Act, which made sentences for traffickers harsher, but removed jail time sentences for users.

In 2005, before the Drug Act, 14% of the crimes for which inmates were convicted or charged with had been related to drug trafficking. In 2014, the number rose to 28% – an increase of 349% in absolute numbers.

In the same period, between 2005 and 2014, the number of homicides in the country increased by 125%, sadly giving Brazil the world record of homicides, with nearly 60,000 deaths in 2015.

The percentage of inmates convicted for or charged with homicide in Brazilian prisons, however, fell from 11% to 10% and continued stable for the entire ten-year period.

A study by the Study Center on Violence of USP released in 2012 showed that in 62% of the flagrant drug busts in São Paulo, the perpetrator was arrested with less than 100 grams of drugs; 80.6% of those detained were first offenders.

A study by the Study Center for Security and Civic Consciousness (CESeC) indicates that the situation is very similar in Rio de Janeiro: among the accused of drug trafficking in 2013, 80.6% were first offenders and 92.5% were not in possessions of a firearm at the moment they were arrested.

The police officers' testimony has been used as the main and sometimes only evidence for a person to be convicted of drug trafficking in the country.

That is the evaluation of defenders and specialists in criminal law.

Cristiano Maronna, the vice president of the Brazilian Institute of Criminal Sciences (IBCCrim), says that there has been "presumed drug trafficking".

"There is no evidence that the person is a drug dealer, but it is inferred based on the place where he was arrested, his social and economic conditions, the fact that he has or does not have a formal job, the amount of drugs, and mainly, the police officers' opinion on the destination of the drugs," says Maronna.

A study by the Study Center for Security and Civic Consciousness shows that 72% of those arrested for drug trafficking in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 were put in jail during proceedings. Later, in two thirds of the cases, the accused had no defense witnesses, only for prosecution.

"The profile of most of those sentenced for trafficking is: poor people, first offenders and arrested with small quantities of drugs. That person is the weakest link in the chain of drug production and sales," says Vitore Maximiano, a public defender in São Paulo and the former national secretary for Drug Policies.

COLLECTIVE EFFORT

Since 2008, prisoner task forces carried out by the country's National Council of Justice have benefited some 80,000 inmates through reduction to crimes of less severity, parole or the right to work outside prison.

Translated by THOMAS MUELLO

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