Brazil: Behind bars is no place you want to be /Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabo de Carvalho

Brazil is hastily preparing to host two of the world’s premier mega-events: the World Cup starting in June and the Olympics just 24 months later. While it has come under heavy criticism for the slow pace of preparations, among other things, this is a country that knows how to throw a party.

Meanwhile, the government is gearing up for a repeat of last year’s social protests. In 2013, more than 1 million people flooded the streets to denounce poor-quality services, the skyrocketing cost of living and the deterioration in public safety. Brazil faces profound problems with violence, including more homicides than any other nation and an exploding prison population.

The way a society cares for its prison population is a good index of its values and civility. A cursory inspection of Brazil’s penal justice system reveals a culture bordering on sadism. The country features the world’s fourth-largest prison population, with roughly 550,000 inmates occupying cell space designed for less than 300,000. Almost half of them have yet to be tried and languish for years before seeing a judge. A study by the International Bar Assn.’s Human Rights Institute found that 1 in 5 pretrial prisoners was jailed improperly. Almost a third of all inmate deaths are a result of homicide, six times the rate for the country as a whole. SEE MORE…

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