Brazil's prison population increased 74 per cent in seven years, says UNDP

Jun 5, 2015

Most inmates are aged 18-24 years and of African descent. Photo: Tiago Zenero / UNDP Brazil

Most prisoners are young and of African descent; most crimes are  related to drugs and robbery

Brasilia - Brazil's prison population has increased 74 percent from 2005 to 2012, says a new UN Development Programme (UNDP)-National Youth Secretariat (SNJ) report launched here today.

This growth was mainly driven by the detention of young Brazilians of African descent and women, according to the new report titled "Brazilian Youth Imprisonment Map" (avalaible in Portuguese only).

The inmates' profiles show a certain "penal selectivity", particularly amoung youth and people of African descent. The most imprisoned people were aged 18-24 years; Brazilians of African descent were arrested 1,5 times more than those of other racial backgrounds.

Moreover, although the number of arrested men is higher than women, the female prison population grew 146 per cent compared to a 70 per cent increase among men.

New data shows that the category of detainees which grew mostly was related to drugs and narcotics: 25 per cent of the total arrests.

"Often, the law says that drug traffickers—not the users— should be punished. But the legislation does not define criteria for the amount and type of drugs possessed to objectively distinguish between dealers and users,” said UNDP representative Jorge Chediek at the report. “People receive the same penalty for possession of a gram or a ton of marijuana, for example.”

The study also shows that, in overcrowded prisons, 18.7 per cent of current inmates did not need to be imprisoned and could have been serving alternative sentences.

Report author Jacqueline Sinhoretto noted that the increase in the number of people arrested in the past seven years is directly related to Brazil’s overcrowded prisons.

"The number of arrests in the period exceeds the state’s capacity to build prisons," Sinhoretto added.

UNDP’s Resident Representative in Brazil, Jorge Chediek, stressed that "the root causes of crime go far beyond what can be solved by repression alone".

According to Chediek "the country needs a cultural change, which is underway, but problems will not be solved by increasing the number of people in prisons. We need to have more sophisticated mechanisms to manage punishment, to ensure inequality reduction and to address crime trends in the country.”

"Punishment and hate should not be the appropriate model to address violence," said National Youth Secretary Gabriel Medina.

Given this context which the report highlights, both Chediek and Medina believe that reducing the age of criminal responsibility will not solve the country’s violence problems.

The Youth Secretary explained that "there is no impunity for teenagers" and that there is a "differentiated system" - which also includes educational measures - for the younger population.

"The idea that teenagers are not punished is simply not true,” Medina said. The youth socio-educational system is often faster in punishing and, in some cases, such as homicide, for example, the punishment is s even harsher than the adult penal system," he added.

"We believe, of course, people who commit crimes should be punished, but society must have a more comprehensive solution to address violence. This should include the social and political dimensions. Therefore, reducing the age of criminal responsibility is not an answer to the problem of violence—and it doesn’t respect certain international agreements," Chediek added.

More information: in Portuguese / in Spanish

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