By Leo Byrne, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A UN report released on Thursday criticized Brazil’s legal infrastructure, claiming that it used “excessive use of deprivation of liberty” as punishment while also not providing enough legal assistance to the poor. The report was made by the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who visited Brazil at the behest of the government.
The team drew attention to some worrying statistics after their ten-day visit, in which they investigated prisons, police stations, immigration detention centers and psychiatric institutions around the country.
“Brazil has one of the largest prisoner populations in the world, with more than 550,000 people in prison. What is more worrying is that about 217,000 prisoners are on remand awaiting trial.”
Chief among the group’s concerns was Brazilian judges’ reluctance to implement alternative sentences for relatively minor offenses. They noted a “worrying trend” regarding the use of deprivation of liberty as a primary punishment.
The report also drew attention to the inadequate number of public defenders in the country. Although Brazil’s constitution should provide for a public defender’s office at state and federal levels, this was not the case in Santa Catarina, Paraná and Goiás where no public defender exists.
In states that do have public attorneys, the group was often concerned that their workload was such as to make them nigh on ineffectual. “In some cities even [the public defenders] have 800 cases, making it impossible to make a good defense. This is something that has to improve quickly,” Chilean human rights lawyer Roberto Garretón said in the report.
The UN group was also troubled by the motivation behind the compulsory hospitalisation of crack addicts in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. “What we were told is that during upcoming [World Cup and Olympic] mega events, Brazil wants to show its best face,” Garreton continued. However the group suggested that the goal shouldn’t be to remove crack addicts, but to treat them.
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