Prison trilogy

Gulsun Karamustafa, Prison Paintings 15, 1972


Considerations on the work of Aly Muritiba and the Brazilian prison system

The history of cinema is full of films that portray prison, the prison environment, relationships before and after incarceration, and the politics that permeate prison institutions. This profusion of films suggests that the prison theme can be considered a cinematic genre in its own right.

This genre is marked by a diversity of approaches. Some films are realistic and documentary, while others are more fictional and imaginative. Some films focus on the experiences of prisoners, while others focus on prison staff or prison systems.

Regardless of the approach, films about prisons often explore themes such as violence, social inequality, justice and freedom. They can be used to raise public awareness of prison problems or to simply entertain and provoke thought.

Among the best-known films of this genre, we can highlight: Butterfly (1973), by Franklin J. Schaffner, Alcatraz: impossible escape (1979), by Don Siegel, O Silêncio dos Inocentes (1991), by Jonathan Demme, A dream of freedom (1994), by Frank Darabont, In the name of the Father (1994), by Jim Sheridan, The man with the Iron Mask (1998), by Randall Wallace, Waiting for a miracle (1999), by Frank Darabont, So, My Brother, Where Are You? (2000), by the Cohen Brothers, among others.

In the Brazilian case, it is a moral issue that I cite the unforgettable Carandiru (2003), by Héctor Babenco. These films are popular for their action, suspense, comedy and drama, but also for their ability to explore complex and controversial themes.

Aly Muritiba

Before diving into the world of seventh art, Aly Muritiba worked as a prison officer. Well, everyone knows that the prison environment is infamous for its brutality and association with the criminal underworld, but it was exactly in this scenario that he expanded his understanding and, eventually, took the path towards the cinematic world.

Upon realizing that he could compensate for his working hours through studies, he chose to enroll in a film course, driven mainly by the practicality of the situation.

From this experience, he determined to transpose his own reality onto the screen, giving rise to a trilogy centered on the prison system: The factory, which reached the Oscar semi-finals in the short film category in 2013, followed by Courtyard, which was shown at Cannes in the same year, and lastly The People.

the trilogy

The Prison Trilogy explores the Brazilian prison system through three distinct perspectives: the inmates' families, the prisoners themselves and the prison officers.

In this way, the short film The factory (2011) inaugurates the trilogy, addressing the delicate situation of families of imprisoned people. The narrative highlights the humiliating process faced by the mother of an incarcerated individual when visiting her son, exploring the difficulty of expressing affection amid separation from society.

As for the second film, the short film Courtyard (2013), highlights the hope for a life after prison that transcends the limitations of bars, by portraying conversations between inmates in a prison yard.

In the end, the feature film The People (2013) focuses on the daily routine of a prison officer. Involved in bureaucratic challenges and interpersonal interactions within the prison, the work explores the efforts of this professional to enforce the law in an environment that lacks the minimum conditions necessary to do so.

In the article “Filming a Total Institution: The Prison Trilogy, by Aly Muritiba”, published in Anthropolitics - Contemporary Journal of Anthropology, researchers Juliana Vinuto and Fabrício Basílio argue that, logically, the singularity of Aly Muritiba's trilogy results from her privileged position as a prison officer.

His profession and the networks to which he was linked facilitated his entry and stay in prison, allowing him broader and deeper access to prison reality. This is reflected in the fluidity and skill evident in his films, which would be difficult to achieve by another researcher or filmmaker who did not have the same social position.

Furthermore, the research duo highlights that the fact that Aly Muritiba is a prison officer raises questions that are little explored in national cinema, especially those related to the challenges faced by professionals who work in the prison environment.

This condition, without a doubt, also had an influence on the fact that the only feature film in the trilogy specifically addresses the journey of a prison officer, without addressing common themes in empirical research, such as torture and ill-treatment carried out by professionals working in prisons.

Finally, for researchers, even in the face of this limitation, Muritiba is not restricted to his position in the field, allowing his camera to also explore the experiences of other participants in the prison system: family members and the inmates themselves, all connected by the perspective of a post-prison future.

Prison and cinema

In the three works, it is possible to approach, from different angles, various nuances of the same issue: the degrading treatment that the State gives to those serving sentences of deprivation of liberty, as well as their families.

The intersection between prison and cinema offers a diversity of perspectives. Numerous cinematographic works portrayed prison reality, while many others explored different forms of confinement, addressing social, geographic, ideological and class aspects.

From this angle, in cinema, prison is often portrayed as a metaphor for the human condition. It can represent isolation, oppression or lack of freedom. Aly Muritiba's trilogy, for example, explores this idea by portraying characters who are trapped in their own lives.

Its triad is powerful because it establishes a crucial dialogue with Brazilian society. Not surprisingly, she won over critics for her accessible and universal language, using archetypes to communicate complex themes to a wide audience.

By focusing on personal and everyday stories, each film in the trilogy reveals a unique perspective on the issue of prison overcrowding and the precarious conditions in which prisoners live.

Prison overcrowding

Projections indicate that the number of inmates in Brazil could reach almost 1,5 million in 2025, equivalent to the population of cities like Belém and Goiânia. Currently, Brazil is the third country in the world with the largest prison population, behind only the United States and China.

This accelerated growth is the result of a combination of factors, including social inequality, corruption and the inefficiency of the judicial system. Brazil is an extremely unequal country, with a large population living in poverty and vulnerability. This contributes to an increase in crime, which in turn leads to an increase in the prison population.

Corruption is also an important factor in the growth of the Brazilian prison population. Many inmates are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, or for minor crimes that would not justify imprisonment. This is due to corruption in the judicial system, which leads to the unfair conviction of innocent people.

A inefficiency of the judicial system it also contributes to the growth of the prison population. The Brazilian judicial system is slow and bureaucratic, which leads to an increase in the time that inmates spend in prison before being judged. This also contributes to prison overcrowding.

The growth of the Brazilian prison population is a serious problem that has a negative impact on society. Overcrowded prisons are dangerous for inmates, staff and the community. They are also inefficient and expensive.

Brazil needs to take urgent measures to address the growth of the prison population. These measures should include: Investing in social programs to reduce social inequality and poverty; reform the judicial system to reduce corruption and inefficiency and invest in rehabilitation programs to help inmates reintegrate into society.

Therefore, according to data from the National Penitentiary Department (Depen) and the 2019 National Penitentiary Information Survey (Infopen), the deficit of vacancies in the Brazilian prison system increased in the first six months of this year, even with the creation of 6.332 new vacancies in the period. In June 2019, there were just over 461.000 places available to house almost 800.000 inmates, considering different regimes for serving sentences and including defendants subject to security measures.

These numbers, corroborated by National Council of Justice (CNJ), highlight the accelerated growth of the Brazilian prison population, with an annual increase of 8,3%, as diagnosed by Depen.

Furthermore, according to the Public Security Yearbook, there was an increase of 8,15% in the total number of people deprived of their liberty from 2020 to 2021, from 758,8 thousand to 820,7 thousand. At the same time, the number of places in the prison system grew by around 24%, with the addition of approximately 123 thousand new places. As a result, the vacancy deficit was reduced by around 24,9%.

Aly Muritiba's vision

In addition to the facts and figures above, in Aly Muritiba's view, the main problem in penitentiaries is the lack of standardization of procedures. Although many of the challenges facing the prison system are similar, the situation is not uniform across the country. On the contrary, it varies not only between states, but also between prisons.

He believes that the absence of a standard that guides care, behavior and ensures decent facilities for prisoners is largely responsible for the chaos. In some federative units, the head of the sector is a career employee, while in other cases, it is a political position, which, according to him, leads to a loss of control, as he commented in interview with the portal UOL in 2014.

On the occasion, Aly Muritiba also proposed a solution to the current scenario, stating that incarceration is not viable as a means of reintegrating or re-educating prisoners. In his view, most prisoners were never truly integrated into society, making the idea of ​​reintegration a fallacy. As an illustration, he cited Paraná, a state considered rich, where prisons are full of poor and black individuals, socially disadvantaged, who did not have access to education.

For him, the numbers highlight the seriousness of the problem of prison overcrowding. However, only 10% of crimes committed are solved and result in arrest. Muritiba assessed that there is an excess of arrests for trivial reasons, such as petty theft, which leads individuals to face long periods behind bars.

In these circumstances, Aly Muritiba's trilogy not only addresses pressing and urgent issues, but also serves as an instrument to broaden public understanding and encourage critical discussions about the prison system and its implications for Brazilian society.

*Vanderlei Tenorio He is a journalist and professor/coordinator of Emancipa Itapira.


LIMA, JV; PACHECO DA SILVA, FB Filming a total institution: The “Prison Trilogy”, by Ali Muritiba. Anthropolitics - Contemporary Journal of Anthropology, n. 43, 22 Jan. 2019.

NASCIMENTO, S. Brazilian prison system: the reality of prisons in Brazil. Politicize!, 2023. Available at

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