The United Nations has criticized the “excessive use of detentions” in Brazil, feeding the problems faced by the country’s struggling penitentiary system.
The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions said there was a “worrying trend” in the use of detention as a first resort and noted that out of the total incarcerated population of 550,000 people, 217,000 prisoners were still awaiting trial, reported the BBC. It expressed concern the problem could increase in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, both of which Brazil is hosting.
The Working Group highlighted discrimination against indigenous people with regards to pre-trial detention and incarceration, noting a 33 percent increase in the proportion of indigenous prisoners in the general jail population in recent years.
The report also criticized deficiencies in Brazil’s justice system that disproportionately affect poor Brazilians, such as the insufficient number of public defenders, reported Brazilian newspaper O Globo.
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Brazil has one of the largest prison populations in the world and its penal system struggles with discipline and serious overcrowding. Criminal gangs are known to conduct their activities from inside jail, most notably São Paulo’s First Capital Command (PCC), which formed in prison in 1993.
As the Working Group acknowledged, the Brazilian government has taken some steps to try and reduce the overuse of pre-trial detentions. In 2011, Brazil passed a judicial reform law which mandated that pre-trial detention should be used as a last resort and prohibited the use of pretrial detention for first-time offenders accused of nonviolent crimes.