A lost battle

Image: Kelly


The left surrendered to the politics of the right by voting in favor of the so-called “releases” for prisoners, even though much of the mainstream media was against the bill.

I received with apprehension the vote of the PT bench, including the majority of federal deputies and senators from the party, against the so-called “leavings” of prisoners. I explain the reason: this is an agenda of the conservative right, which also defends the maxim that a good criminal is a dead criminal. It is no coincidence that the Secretary of Public Security of São Paulo, licensed deputy Guilherme Derrite, returned to the Chamber to report on the bill that had already been approved by the Senate. Even with much of the media opposing the bill, calling it populist demagoguery, the left voted like the right – in favor of ending “saidinhas”.

What is more serious is that this vote took place without debate or discussion of what really matters: the Brazilian penitentiary system and criminal legislation. The situation of overcrowding and degradation of our penitentiary system is public and notorious, a problem recognized even by the Federal Supreme Court, following a decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as an unconstitutional state of affairs.

Without commitment from the State and with society's failure to find solutions to this announced tragedy, the numbers are alarming. According to the Brazilian Public Security Yearbook, Brazil has around 832 thousand prisoners, 44,5% of whom are provisional without trial. Around 30% are citizens wrongfully imprisoned, according to the National Council of Justice. From 2005 to 2022, the prison population grew by 215%. Today, 70% of it is made up of black people and young people aged between 18 and 34.

Brazil has penitentiaries that operate 54,9% above their capacity. Six out of every ten deaths in prisons occur due to disease. Without a prisoner reintegration policy and with a total absence of infrastructure and professionals, the recidivism of those released from the penitentiary system is 21% in the first year and 38,9% in the fifth year.

In reality, in our system there are no job or study offers for the vast majority of prisoners, not even for those who have not been convicted or for those who have committed lesser crimes. Without disregarding the fact that there is a mixture of prisoners in penitentiaries, regardless of the level of danger, crimes committed and prison sentences, creating ideal conditions for recruitment by criminal organizations.

All of this is aggravated by the fact that more than half of those convicted of drug trafficking are, in fact, users who, for some reason – such as debt, threat or blackmail –, collaborated with drug trafficking. They are people with families, professions, and often their own homes, and sentenced to high prison sentences.

With the exception of the federal government's maximum security prisons, it is organized crime – from the PCC to Comando Vermelho and other criminal organizations – that controls a large part of the penitentiary system. The ties and arms of these organizations today extend to public authorities and institutions, helping to elect politicians and exerting influence on governments, as we have seen in the past in states like Espírito Santo and Acre.

It is not new that demagoguery and disinformation fuel ineffective policies and, on the contrary, strengthen organized crime. Without forgetting that there are 28 thousand fugitives and 302 thousand arrest warrants pending execution.

On the other hand, there is a hysterical outcry against prisoners' privileges and perks, an intense campaign according to which prisoners would live in “five-star” hotels, when the reality is quite different: it is the families themselves who provide clothes, personal hygiene materials and cleaning cells or washing clothes, as well as food for prisoners. The campaign even led to the closure of the canteens that existed inside the prisons and the prohibition of the right to receive 120 reais per month from families to purchase basic products in these small establishments.

The “privileges” thesis was even incorporated by sectors of the media, despite the overcrowded prisons, the degraded majority and the lack of security agents and civil servants. Even employees and doctors in the health sector and educators and technicians in the education sector are provided by state governments.

We saw and witnessed scenes of Dantesque horror in our penitentiaries, as in the examples of Amazonas and in states in the Northeast, with scenes of decapitated prisoners, executions and power struggles between criminal organizations in control of penitentiaries. It is living proof of the urgent and necessary reform of the entire system that today is a source of recruitment and power for criminal organizations, now also of a transnational nature, as we saw in Roraima and on the border with Paraguay, where they grow due to the absence of the State.

The families of prisoners end up being victims of pressure and blackmail from these criminal organizations and are recruited to support them or even be part of their network of informants or logistics – not to mention the emergence of militias, made up of former police officers who compete and fight for power. and areas with traditional drug trafficking.

Given this situation, what is the solution presented? Put an end to the five annual trips to visit family on holidays, study abroad or participate in resocialization activities. This was the first measure approved, but we will soon see the proposal to end criminal progression and pardons, as in practice former president Jair Bolsonaro did, who only pardoned convicted police officers and their associates such as Daniel Silveira.

The law is clear: release is only guaranteed to prisoners under certain conditions: semi-open regime, 1/6 of the sentence served if a first-time offender, or 1/4 if a repeat offender, good behavior, and excluding those who committed heinous or threatening crimes serious and violence. But instead of discussing an improvement in the penitentiary system, such as preventing the escape of prisoners who do not return from their exit, or even discussing a possible restriction of the rights of prisoners for drug trafficking, the left omitted and preferred to support the end of exits. , except for supplementary, professional or secondary and higher education courses. Another serious issue was the approval of the requirement for a criminological examination for prisoners to have the right to escape and criminal progression, that is, the transition from the closed regime to the semi-open regime and from there to the open regime. There is no real condition for this exam to be carried out for the simple reason that there are no professionals in the system and no material conditions to carry them out.

The gravity of the left's vote lies in the surrender to the right-wing policy that we have known for decades and which has not resulted in reducing crime. Let us mention everything from the Minas Gerais police, the death squad, Rota na Rua, to the executions in Operation Escudo, promoted by the governor of São Paulo Tarcísio de Freitas – which, in practice, function as the death penalty, prohibited by the Federal Constitution. As we saw in the Elite Troop of the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro, the release of all types of violence, torture and summary executions created conditions of impunity and a safe path for corruption and organized crime to penetrate the police and dominate them. Not to mention the increasingly clear decision to transform the PMs, starting with the one in São Paulo, into a Bolsonarist militia.

The cowardly and vile murder of councilor Marielle Franco reveals the relationships between former police officers and organized crime and politics. The coup attempt on January 8th shows how far the involvement of military sectors in violating the Federal Constitution has reached, which would be enough for us to have the courage to face the debate and wear and tear in sectors of society that are in favor of the penalty of death, summary execution of criminals or lynching. Be warned: wouldn't it be an objective of the Bolsonarist right to create a climate of rebellion and dissatisfaction in prisons and then blame the federal government for the generally tragic consequences of these rebellions?

There is nothing to indicate that the end of “little outings” will change the scenario of bankruptcy in the penitentiary system. The question that arises is: will we be silent or in favor of solutions like those of the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele? How far will we give in? How are we going to change the understanding of parts of our society without facing public debate and, even more seriously, without presenting a government alternative to reform the penitentiary system?

* Jose Dirceu He was chief minister of the Civil House in the first Lula government (2003-2005), national president of the Workers' Party and federal deputy for São Paulo. Author, among other books, of Memories – vol. 1 (editorial generation). [https://amzn.to/3x3kpxl]

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