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More white than black inmates freed after custody hearing in Brazil

  • 27/12/2017 15h39publicação
  • São Paulolocalização
Daniel Mello reports from Agência Brasil

Custody hearings across Brazil release more white than black people, a survey by NGO Institute for the Right to Defense (IDDD, in the original Portuguese). In cooperation with research bodies, the institute monitored all hearings held in nine Brazilian capitals for two months.

Custody hearings are held when an inmate is taken before a judge so the latter can consider whether imprisonment is legal and necessary. In four cities where the research was carried out, black and brown individuals are observed to be given a preventive detention order more frequently than whites.

The widest gap was reported in the state of Minas Gerais. The study found that 77.94% of the people who were taken to a judge after prison were black, against 22.6% made up of white people. Of the whites, 42.3% were sent back to detention, whereas black and brown people showed a 56.77%.

In Rio de Janeiro, 31.25% of the prisoners were white, whereas blacks totaled  63.39%. Of the whites, imprisonment was upheld in 54.29% of the cases, compared to 66.2% for blacks. In São Paulo, 39.38% of those taken to hearings were white, who remained in jail in 55.26% of the cases, and 61.03% were black, who continued imprisoned after 61.03% of the sessions.

In Recife, capital city of Pernambuco, most inmates were black or brown (92.39%). Of this total, 63.53% were sent to preventive detention. Of the 7.61% made up of imprisoned whites, 57.14% remained under custody.

The National Survey on Penitentiary Information, published by Brazil's Ministry of Justice, shows similar data: of the country's 726,712 inmates, 64% are black. In Rio de Janeiro, blacks and browns add up to 72% of the prison population. Its counterpart in Pernambuco stands at 83%.

Prejudice and the culture of punishment

IDDD believes that, even though custody hearings represent a significant stride for Brazil's Judiciary, its bias is still appalling. “Prejudice, the culture of punishment, and the belief in the role of prisons to curb crime are present and are not going to change over night, but giving those under custody a chance to be seen and heard has contributed to providing flesh-and-bone people with  access to the law,” the report notes.

Custody hearings, where those arrested in flagrante delicto are taken before a judge 24 hours after the imprisonment, were introduced in Brazil in 2016. The goal is that magistrates evaluate whether the imprisonment is legal and necessary, in a bid to avoid abusive or unnecessary detention for long periods of time.

Quoting from previous research studies by the same institute and other organizations, the document argues that hearings really did lead to a slight reduction in the number of preventive arrests. IDDD adds, however, that circumstances are still far from ideal, bearing in mind today's “chaotic overpopulation issue facing Brazil's prison units.”

According to the survey by the Justice Ministry, 40% of the country's prison population is formed by people targeted by preventive detention orders.


Translated by Fabrício Ferreira

Edited by: Nádia Franco / Mariana Branco