Dealing with Overcrowding in Brazil’s Prisons: Innovative Legislation Passed

Brazilian legislators have passed an innovative law to deal with overcrowding and high recidivism in Brazil’s prisons: one day less in prison for every 12 hours spent in the classroom, reports Folha de São Paulo. As world population continues to surge past 7 billion people, prison overcrowding and repeat incarceration have become major policy problems around the world.

Statistics from a 2010 report show that there are 440,864 prisoners in Brazil’s prison system, and a total of 299,597 spots, meaning that prisons are 140,000 over capacity. The law already provides for one day less in prison for every three days of performed labor, but the new measures, introduced by legislator Cristovam Buarque(PDT-DF), will accelerate the pace at which prisoners may shorten their sentences.

Overcrowding in Brazilian Prisons

Almost a quarter of prisoners, or 97,050, are involved in programs where labor is performed in exchange for time, but only about 10 percent (44,463 prisoners) enroll in educational programs. Even though less one percent of prisoners have completed high school–1,860 prisoners–literacy rates are surprising high: a mere 6 percent of inmates are illiterate, almost half the national average for all Brazilian citizens. The recently passed law, soon to be signed by President Rousseff, may provide the needed stimulus to encourage Brazil’s 411,157 incarcerated men and 29,707 women to sign-up on to educational initiatives, which will apparently be available both in-house and by distance.

Incarceration rates in Brazil are still relatively low compared to other system. Point-in-case, U.S. prisons contain more than 5 times the number of incarcerated men than Brazil’s, at between 2.3 and 2.4 million, according to 2010 figures published by the Economist. These numbers are jarring, especially given that the total national population of the U.S. is less than twice that of Brazil. For an inside look at the U.S. prison system, see Prison Movement’s Weblog.

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