Sunday, 26 February 2012

São Paulo in Statistics: Prison Overpopulation

São Paulo prisons: 81% overbooked

The prisoner population of the state of São Paulo is 179,000. To put that in a context which can be understood by non-Brazilians it is equivalent to the prisoner population of all of England and Wales. It also represents a extremely high proportion of the 496,000 prisoners currently behind bars in Brazilian jails across the country. Said in a different way, more than 1 in every 3 Brazilian prisoners are being held in a São Paulo jail.

The statistics above already hint at a serious overpopulation problem. Add to that the fact that country level prison population has grown to such an extent it has almost doubled between 2000 and 2010 and that the judicial system is slow and  inefficient to the point of having 40% of all prisoners still awaiting trial and you will have some sense of the chronic overpopulation problem.

In São Paulo 15 additional prisons or provisional detention units are already under construction. Unfortunately unless there is a dramatic change in policing, criminality or judicial process that will simply not be enough. Recent studies have estimated that São Paulo would need an additional 93 units over and above the 15 under construction just to correct current place to prisoner deficit. Disturbing though it is, this of course doesn't take into account the projected increase in future prionser numbers.

There are currently 121 new prisoners detained for every 100 released in São Paulo. And the situation is already critical, São Paulo is the state with the highest prisoner to place ratio at 185,447 prisoners for 102,242 places, an 81% overcrowding rate.

The video below is an excerpt from the documentary Under The Brazilian Sun and gives us a more direct sense of what overcrowding means and feels like in practice. It directly contradicts the argument a Paulistano gave to me to last year in his support for the introduction of the death penalty; that life in Brazilian prisons was far too easy and comfortable.

The rest of the documentary is also on youtube and is quite an eye opener although be warned some sections such as the one on torture and violence are very graphic.

More statistics on São Paulo


Anonymous said...

This is only the tip of the iceberg. The justice system (calling it that is somewhat of a sad joke) is based on the corruption of the Civil Police (Policia Civil) who will pin as serious a case as possible on any person accused of any crime, in the hope of receiving a bribe in order to alleviate the charges.
Any lawyer knows this is the reality, and the most important quality a lawyer must have is the ability to negotiate these bribes. If they are successful at this, their client will never see the inside of a prison cell.
This is the true reality of Brazil. It cannot be changed because it is too lucrative to the decision makers and executers.

Discovering São Paulo said...

You make an interesting point. It's almost impossible to measure but will likely have a huge impact on overcrowding.

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