By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The number of incarcerated women in Brazil grew by more than 567 percent from 2000 to 2014, according to the first national report on the feminine penitentiary population conducted by the country’s Ministry of Justice. According to the government’s Infopen Women study, in absolute numbers, Brazil is the fifth country in a list of twenty, with the largest women population in prison only behind the U.S., China, Russia and Thailand.

The number of women incarcerated in Brazil grew by more than 500 percent since 2000, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Brazil News
The number of women incarcerated in Brazil grew by more than 500 percent since 2000, photo by Marcello Casal Jr./Agencia Brasil.

The study also shows that nearly half of the women incarcerated today in the country are between the ages of 18 and 29, and two thirds are black. “The incarceration of women obeys very distinct criminal patterns if compared to those of men,” stated general director of the National Penitentiary Department, Renato de Vitto, during a press conference to announce the study.

According to the study, for example approximately 68 percent of the women in jail are there for drug trafficking related crimes while in the men’s jails those numbers fall to approximately 25 percent of the total.

Due to the nature of their crime, many women incarcerated in Brazil are not Brazilians, but foreigners transporting drugs to and from the country. The study reported 53 percent of the foreigners are from the Americas, 27 percent from Africa and thirteen percent from Europe.

The four countries with the largest number of nationals in women’s prisons in Brazil are Bolivia, Paraguay, South Africa and Peru. According to de Vitto the impact that a woman’s incarceration causes on family and social relations, requires a ‘differentiated view’ of the administration of such prisons.

Bangu Prison in Rio de Janeiro is one of the few prisons in Brazil with space for convicts to temporarily live with their infants, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Brazil News
Bangu Prison in Rio de Janeiro is one of the few prisons in Brazil with space for convicts to temporarily live with their infants, photo by Tania Rego/Agencia Brasil.

In absolute terms, the state of São Paulo holds overwhelmingly the largest number of women in prison, approximately 39 percent of the total, followed by Rio de Janeiro, with 11 percent and Minas Gerais with 8.2 percent.

Social analysts say that with the surge of women being convicted and going to prison, the government needs to address the problem of space and structure adapted to this incarcerated population. According to the government of the 1,420 units in the penitentiary system in 2014, only 103 were units totally dedicated to holding women and 239 considered mixed – which could mean anything from an entire wing for women or just a few cells in a male facility.

Of the all-women units, only 34 percent have facilities for pregnant prisoners, 32 percent had facilities to hold both mother and infant. “What is seen most often than none, are men’s facilities badly adapted to receive women and not offering the basic conditions for her and her infants to remain (until taken away),” Valdirene Daufemback, director of Penitentiary Policies was quoted as saying in a statement released by the Ministry of Justice.

According to Brazil’s Ministry of Justice this first study on incarcerated women in Brazil is linked to the recently implemented National Policy of Attention to Women in the Prison System, a program of the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Policies Towards Women.

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