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Brazilian Government Reduces Prison Funding by 85%

01/04/2017 - 08h56



In the last two years the federal government has reduced by 85% the funding transferred to States for the construction of new prison facilities and reduced the resources available for restructuring and modernizing existing facilities as well.

The country's penal system has accumulated an overcrowding of 250 thousand inmates, based upon the last federal count, and the precariousness of this situation was exposed in the death of 56 inmates in an overcrowded prison in Manuas on Sunday (the 1st) and Monday (the 2nd), attributed to a turf war between rival criminal factions. This prison massacre is the worst since Carandiru in 1992.

Funpen (National Penitentiary Fund), part of the Justice Ministry, transferred R$ 111,5 million (US$ 34,1 million) to the "Support for Penal Establishment Construction" program in 2014, earmarked to construct and enlarge state prisons, according to the federal budget.

The following year, the funding fell to R$ 12,6 million (US$ 3,8 million) and in 2016, during the governments of Dilma Rousseff (PT) and Michel Temer (PMDB), the funding was R$ 17 million (US$ 5,2 million). Only one penitentiary for 847 inmates, inaugurated six months ago in the countryside of São Paulo cost the State R$ 36 million (US$ 11 million).

Data from Infopen, the system that tracks the number of inmates, reveals that there were 622 thousand inmates in Brazil at the end of 2014, but capacity for only 327.

In the state of Amazonas, where 60 died this week in rebellions, the occupancy rate was 259%, or in other words, one and one-half times beyond capacity. The Anísio Jobim complex, where the massacre took place this week, housed 1.224 men in a space projected for 454.

The Federal Justice Ministry didn't respond to inquiries regarding the reduction in funding since 2014. It did declare, however, that it was committed to using as much as R$156 million (US$ 47,7 million) in 2017 from last year's budget to meet the funding requirement.

The ministry also promised to provide R$ 799 million more (US$244.3 million) for construction of an additional prison in each State.

There is a general consensus that the current overcrowding, combined with a lack of infrastructure, facilitates the activities of criminal factions. "These organizations provide protection, however, anyone who enters the prison has to join a faction to survive", says Arthur Trindade, former Public Security Secretary for the Federal District and a member of the Brazilian Forum for Public Safety.

Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes, recently declared that there is a plan to reduce the number of temporary inmates, who account for as many as 41% of the total in the country. At the same time, however, he supports the toughening of penalties for heinous crimes.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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