Thursday, August 28, 2014

CCC Visit to a Maximum Security Prison in Brazil

I got extremely lucky today. My very gracious hosts here in Vitoria organized for me to visit a maximum security prison out of town!

Brazilian prisons are fairly brutal places with abysmal conditions. Only two days ago, a prison riot in Cascavel claimed three lives in horrible ways. A story on The Economist, which was published a few months ago, ascribes the brutality, and the murders of about 220 inmates in the last year and a half, to the severe overcrowding in the system.

In the past 20 years Brazil’s population has grown by 30%, while that of its prisons and police cells has almost quintupled, to 550,000—the fourth-highest in the world, behind the United States, China and Russia.

Officially, Brazilian penitentiaries have room for around 300,000 people. There is federal money to spend on building extra prisons, which are largely run by the states. But it can flow only once a project is approved by a local town. They are reluctant hosts, fearing that penitentiaries both bring crime when prisoners are released and also divert resources from other public works. “Everyone wants hospitals and schools,” says Antonio Ferreira Pinto, a former security secretary in São Paulo state. “No one wants a prison.” Federal-prison spending fell in 2012.

Brazil needs cells to house genuine criminals: the murder rate stood at 24.3 per 100,000 in 2012, more than six times higher than in Chile. But really it needs fewer inmates. Lucia Nader of Conectas, a human-rights group, attributes an upsurge in prisoners since 2006 to a law that decriminalised possession of drugs for personal use but stiffened penalties for trafficking. The distinction between the two is left to the arresting officer. “A light-skinned yuppie smoking pot on the beach is a user and left in peace,” says Ms Nader. “A dark-skinned slum-dweller lighting a spliff on the street is a peddler and thrown in jail.” Since the law’s introduction, the number of people held for trafficking has swelled from 33,000 in 2005 to 138,000 in 2012.

There are two bottlenecks that prevent the release of inmates that would alleviate the overcrowding: undiscriminating pretrial detention (41% of all inmates) and a paucity of legal advice that would enable inmates to benefit from Brazil’s theoretically world-class laws on parole and alternative sentences like community service.

With too many prisoners flowing in, and not enough flowing out, a cesspool festers in the middle. On paper Brazil’s prisons are a paragon of modernity. In practice, says Marcos Fuchs of Instituto Pro Bono, another human-rights group, they are medieval. In one São Paulo penitentiary he visited, 62 people were crammed in a cell meant for 12, taking turns to sleep on the floor or by leaning against a wall. According to official figures, half a million inmates received care from 367 doctors in 2012. Fifteen gynaecologists served 32,000 female prisoners, many of whom use bread to stanch menstrual bleeding.

Knowing all this, I was invited to join two Espirito Santo prosecutors on a trip to audit Capixaba, a maximum-security prison located in a rural area of the state. Every month, the office of the prosecutor conducts an audit of the prisons.

When we came in, we were met by Bruno, the energetic prison warden. I was very impressed with him; for someone so young, he is not only incredibly practical and capable, but also full of good, sound ideas, and he treats all the inmates, all of whom he knows personally, like full-fledged human beings--with a balance between discipline and compassion.

The prison is located in a modern building. The state purchased the model from the United States and built it in 2011. It is a fairly new institution, with automatic doors that control everything from entrances to the water in the showers. What you can't see are the cells, which we were not allowed to document out of concern for the inmates' privacy. We were, however, allowed to walk. There are four hallways, three of which are regular hallways. One of them is devoted to students and allows them time to study. In each cellblock, there are a few inmates who study theology and their cells are designated "Igreja" (church). They have volunteered to offer spiritual help to the other inmates.

The cells are very crowded: at their design capacity, they hold four inmates in two bunk beds in a space equivalent to one SHU cell in California. Moreover, at the moment Bruno has approximately 750 inmates in a space designed for 650, and some cells have 6 inmates in them, which means two folks sleep on mattresses on the floor.

I asked about solitary confinement. Bruno was surprised, then explained that he did not believe in segregation, so he simply never did that. Instead, if someone violated the discipline, they were sent to a special aisle of cells where disruptive folks lived, to enable the other people to live in peace.
The gardener.

At the entrance to the prison, we were greeted by a beautiful organic vegetable garden. The garden is run by an employee of the state who is also a biologist. He has transformed the outside of the entire prison into a bountiful farm, and the produce goes straight to the kitchen. At lunchtime, we saw the meal, which was very decent - chicken, rice, beans, vegetables - and contained produce. The surplus is donated to needy families.

The garden manager chooses frail, ill inmates to work in the garden, because he reasons that they can benefit more from the sunshine.

The garden.
This is another picture of the garden. Not all the inmates who work here are from this prison; some come from a nearby "semi-open" prison, in which inmates walk to work. At the moment, the Brazil prison bottleneck means that anyone who gets four years or less doesn't actually do any prison time, and folks sentenced to a bit more sometimes get to do their time in an institution where they only go to sleep. They work outside the prison all day. The guys we met, who were proud and happy of their vegetable garden, stroll without any supervision from the other prison here every day to work, and calmly return to bed at night.

Outside the prison, near the garden, we met the prison's two full-time psychologists, who conduct extensive intake interviews with the inmates and help them put together education and work plans.

Lawyers meet the inmates through plexiglass in a special meeting room that looks like the one in any American prison. But they're not the only visitors, of course; inmates are allowed a one-hour conjugal visit with their wife, or a legally-recognized partner, once every 15 days. The prison has basic but decent and clean rooms for this purpose, with a bed, a mattress, and a washbasin. The women undergo a search coming in but are treated with respect by guards and inmates. While Bruno created some rules for walking around the prison, the inmates came up with an informal code of their own: out of respect for their fellow inmates and their wives and a willingness to avoid violence and anger, they look away when women pass by.

There is also a big yard and a big family room, and children can come visit and play in the yard. Because of the good influence of visits on inmates' morale and behavior, last year, Bruno transferred several inmates from a distant part of the country to an institution close to their families, and accepted local inmates in return.

Vinicius and his art.
Bruno strongly believes that inmates who keep busy and better themselves are happier and cause less trouble, so he runs a rigorous study and work program. The prison school has at least five classes. Every class teaches on an accelerated pace--the curriculum of two regular schools in one year. Many of the inmates learned their alphabet for the first time in prison. They continue from grade to grade. We saw algebraic equations, anatomy, and language classes going on while we were touring the prison. There is also a library, where some inmates are doing a librarian apprenticeship program. Bruno is fairly well read on pedagogy, and he's come up with a plan: the inmates will finish high school, then attend a technical school on the grounds, and then be assigned a job.

In Bruno's prison there are several ways to spend your time. There is an art studio, where inmates paint and make marvelous objects of art. Their teacher, who was enthusiastically explaining perspective to them, is Vinicius, a gifted oil and charcoal painter himself, who is serving his second sentence for drug trafficking. A gentle and intelligent soul, Vinicius explained about his program and we became friends. At the end of my visit, he very generously gifted me this beautiful painting.

Net factory.
There are also two prison industries: one that makes football and volleyball nets, and one that makes handmade quality footballs. These are not industries supported by outside corporations. They were conceived and created by Bruno and the prison staff, and the nets and footballs are donated to schools and other institutions.

Football factory.
The prison infirmary has nurses and a dentist for eight hours a day and a physician for 20 hours a week. It's fairly calm and undercrowded; the inmates are, for the most part, young and healthy, and sentences in Brazil are much shorter than in the United States. But there are several inmates with AIDS and diabetes, and the staff treats them on the premises. In rare cases, very ill inmates are simply released home, to house arrest.

A local church has started a music program with the prison, and several inmates have joined a choir. There are also several talented musicians who started a samba band, and they were rehearsing when we came to visit. They told us that some of them had been musicians outside and some learned music behind bars. I thought they sounded fantastic.

Samba band.

On the way out, we told Daniella, the prosecutor, that we hope she doesn't now get motivated to send inmates there. We know that there are only eight prisons like Capixaba in the state, and the rest of them are awful, full of violence, boredom, and terrible conditions. Since apparently there is federal money to reform prisons, I very much hope Brazil will model more of its prisons like Capixaba, with one variation: an improvement in the impossibly-small cell size. The key to stay sane and healthy in Capixaba is to spend as much time out of the cell as possible, working, studying, and learning new skills; being in the cells is extremely depressing and requires being with at least other three human beings in very close quarters.

With warden Bruno and the psychologists.
Tomorrow, I'm heading with Daniella, the prosecutor, to see a negligent homicide trial in the lower courts. Stay tuned for more adventures.

Many thanks to Daniella and her fellow prosecutor, as well as to Ricardo Gueiros and Marco Olsen, for bringing me to Capixaba and treating me with generous hospitality; to Bruno, for allowing us an extensive tour of his well-run prison; and to Vinicius, for sharing his art and talent with us.

CCC Field Trip: Vitoria, Brazil - Appellate Courts

I am visiting Vitoria, Brazil, as part of a collaboration between Hastings and Universidade Federal do Espirito Santo (UFES), who has invited a few of us to offer a week-long comparative procedure mini-course. I'm teaching policing, courtroom processes, and American incarceration, so naturally I've been very curious about the Brazilian criminal process.

Our hosts have very generously taken me to see some fascinating things. Yesterday, we visited the Appellate Court of the State of Espirito Santo.

Here we are with some of the judges of this upper level court (any appeals go straight to the Supreme Court of Brasilia), standing in the great hall of the court. There are currently 26 judges, and in important matters of government they all sit in justice, deciding the case by a majority vote.

Our hosts, the Chief Judge of the court (4th from the right) and Judge Manuel Rabelo (1st on the right) sit in criminal and civil cases respectively. We got to see a criminal appeal. It was a burglary case; the appellant was charged with breaking into car windows and was caught in flagrante delicto (in the act), which is a fairly important consideration in Brazilian substantive law.

When the court hears an appeal, there are three judges present. The prosecutor sits with the judges and basically does nothing. The defense attorney stands across the room in street clothes and pleads her case (overall, in this system, the defense gets very little respect, and it's a job poorly regarded and poorly remunerated compared to those of prosecutors and judges). Only one judge of the three reads the case, and s/he renders an opinion. Based just on listening to the judge's opinion, the other judges decide whether they affirm or withdraw to read the case on their own. All of this debate takes place in open court; the judges do not discuss the case amongst themselves.
To become a judge, you have to pass a civil justice exam. Most appellate judges are first-instance judges who received a seniority or merit promotion, but a few come from the prosecutorial service. About half the judges in lower courts are women, but only two out of the 26 in the upper court are women. Each judge has several clerks and a couple of estagiers (externs) who help write the opinions.

Many thanks to Ricardo Gueiros and Marco Olsen who made our visit to the court happen.

Friday, August 22, 2014

New Law Bans Inmate Sterilization

This trend has, thankfully, somewhat changed, and we know much more about the experience of female inmates thanks to the works of feminist criminologists and human rights lawyers and advocates. But once in a while, a new report or study sheds light on a particularly shocking or brutal occurrence previously unknown.

In this way, the last few years have exposed several “pains of imprisonment” that harm women in unconscionable ways, particularly pertaining to their autonomy over their own sexuality and reproduction. Interviews with female inmates expose the common occurrence of sexual harassment and abuse on the part of guards. Romantic and sexual relationships between inmates and staff are, by nature, plagued by a power differential that is impossible to bridge, even when not accompanied by brutal coercion. Female reproduction is severely monitored and sanctioned; according to the ACLU, most prisons in the United States still shackle pregnant inmates, even when they are in labor.

In 2013, the Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered a California scandal of massive proportions: the sterilization of female inmates without proper state procedures. A 2014 California Auditor examination uncovered 144 cases of tubal ligations performed in inmates between 2006 and 2010, 39 of which were performed without consent and a further 27 in which the inmates’ physicians did not sign the appropriate forms. Interviews with the inmates that had undergone the procedure reveal disturbing degrees of paternalism and pressure on the part of medical staff.

Thankfully, the California legislature has unanimously adopted SB 1135, which “would prohibit sterilization” of an inmate “except when required for the immediate preservation of life in an emergency medical situation or when medically necessary . . . to treat a diagnosed condition and certain requirements are satisfied, including that patient consent is obtained.” The bill requires special follow-up on sterilizations performed in compliance with these conditions, as well as an annual report of data on sterilizations, disaggregated by race, age, medical justification, and method of sterilization.

In approving the bill, which is now on Gov. Brown’s table, California has taken an important step away from two painful legacies: its historically dysfunctional health care system, lambasted by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata (2011) and the history of medical experimentation in inmates with dubious, or nonexistent, consent, now strictly regulated by federal law. But rather than the neglect that categorizes the former or the exploitation that categorizes the latter, the sterilizations are the manifestations of another disturbing factor: supposedly benevolent paternalism and an assumption that the sterilizations are for the benefit of the inmate herself, and perhaps of society as a whole.

A story published today on the Sacramento Bee quotes Crystal Nguyen, a former Valley State Prison inmate, who reports having heard, back in 2007, medical staff asking inmates to agree to sterilization.

“I was like, 'Oh my God, that's not right,'" said Nguyen. "Do they think they're animals, and they don't want them to breed anymore?"

Also quoted by the Bee is Christina Cordero, who was talked into undergoing the procedure after giving birth to her son while incarcerated. “As soon as [the institution’s OB-GYN] found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it. . . He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn't do it."

What these paternalistic notions have in common with medical neglect and scientific exploitation is the lack of recognition that the inmates, regardless of their respective offenses and histories, are human beings, and as such must be given at least a modicum of autonomy regarding the only thing that is still theirs: their own bodies. It is to be hoped that SB 1135 represents not only a remedy for a recently uncovered horror, but a willingness to acknowledge our shared humanity on both sides of the prison gates.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: Appeal in Jones v. Chappell

I have disappointing news to share: the Attorney General has decided to appeal in Jones v. Chappell.

I am not surprised, but I am very disappointed, just as all of you must be. Whoever has taken part in reaching this decision is not supporting the law or defendants' rights; they are supporting wasteful, unconscionable expenditures of $130 million annually on a lengthy incarceration in a dilapidated facility, complete with decades of state-funded post-conviction litigation. This is a very sad day for any reasonable, conscious Californian.

The next frontier will be in the Ninth Circuit, where odds that we will prevail are not very good, but not non-existent. Please follow up on our coverage of this issue,and do not be discouraged: we will fight on, in litigation and through legislative and political means, and we will see nationwide abolition in our time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Preview of Cheap on Crime - and talk today!

Points, the blog of the Alcohol and Drugs Historical Society, ran an interview with me about Cheap on Crime. 

If you're in San Francisco today and want to learn more, I'll be giving a talk about the book at the American Sociological Association meeting, at the Hilton in Union Square, on a panel about Law in Hard Times, between 12:30 and 2:10. I'll be very happy to meet blog readers there!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson Coverage

Just a reminder that I'm blogging about Ferguson and other related law enforcement matters over at Iron in War.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Offshoot Sister Blog: Iron in War

Friends and readers - I have a new sister blog to CCC called Iron in War, in which I blog about matters pertaining to the front end of the criminal process: policing and law enforcement. I'm blogging extensively there about Ferguson and will blog about other issues, such as private policing, criminalization, neighborhood watches, search and seizure, interrogations, and investigations. Come check us out.