Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon will today focus on Brazilian criminal law. “Boring!” you say, but you are wrong. This disquisition focuses on a proposed Constitutional Amendment (#171) that would lower the age of criminal punishment from 18 to 16.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

Today, juveniles under the age of eighteen (even just one day under) who commit criminal acts (even murder) cannot be tried and sentenced as adults. They must be judged under a pie-in-the-sky statute that insists juveniles be “resocialized” and “rehabilitated”; more to the point, they cannot be imprisoned for over three years.

PEC 171 will soon be voted on by the Brazilian Congress; if one believes today’s papers, it will pass. It lowers the minimum age to sixteen for “heinous” crimes, a plastic concept usually involving violence. When convicted, sixteen and seventeen year old robbers and rapists will be sent to the same jails as their less juvenile co-criminals.

Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Opinions differ, as you might imagine, but they have a common underlying dogma: no one who commits a heinous crime can ever be recuperated.

Most of those favoring PEC 171 claim that three years of “rehabilitation” for murdering a human being is “impunity” because the adults behind them have promised them rewards for “taking the fall” for the true culprit, over age eighteen. Most of those against PEC 171 claim that putting sixteen-year olds in adult prisons guarantees they will, upon release, be even more hardened criminals.

Sadly, both sides are right. The percentage of juveniles who are “resocialized” after time spent in juvenile facilities is so low it would be laughable — if it weren’t so sad. The percentage of recidivists eighteen and over who have spent time in Brazilian “correctional” facilities is so high it would be laughable — if it weren’t so sad.

Broadly speaking, most of Brazilian society supports the adage “the only good bandido is a dead bandido”; hence police killing “bandidos” is roundly supported by the general populace; no serious investigations are held because “they got what they deserved.”

The Brazilian penal system is completely broken. All penitentiaries (save the penthouse suites in Papuda reserved for the great and the near great) are hugely overcrowded; there are no recreational activities, there are no real attempts made to “rehabilitate” the truly penitent.

So, given the proven inability of Brazilian juvenile or adult penal institutions to recuperate or rehabilitate or resocialize anyone, no matter what age, the remedy suggested by a majority of the Brazilian Congress is, quite simply: “lock them up and throw away the key.”

Given all this, the Curmudgeon reluctantly supports PEC 171. The 1988 Constitution gave the right to vote to sixteen year olds, treating them as adults. If they commit heinous crimes, society has the right to treat them as adults, imprisoning them.

P.S. The Curmudgeon did not mention that Criminal Code Article 171 penalizes “estelionato”, a type of fraud known in English as “confidence game” or “scam”. Any resemblance to the current Congress voting on PEC 171 is mere coincidence.

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON, fetched up on Carioca shores some 37+ years ago and claims to have grown younger every year; he is probably irrecuperable.


  1. I agree that 16 year olds commiting serious crimes should be held accountable and serve the same sentence as adults committing those crimes. Do the crime, do the time. But, I would like to see education used as a means of determining the ultimate length of a sentence for those imprisoned. With over 50% of convicted criminals in Brasil having had zero education, why not structure a prison sentence where each level of education obtained behind bars (each “grade” passed) results in a pre-determined reduction in the length of the prison stay for that individual?

    Brasilian prisons are among the worst places to be on this planet, and imprisoned gang leaders continue to conduct their business with smuggled cell phones and internet access. That needs to end. Give them an education (if they want it), reduce their sentence if they achieve it, and upon release they might at least have a better chance of changing their lives.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

13 − eleven =