Doing Time in Brazil


Discussing prison politics and policies can be a rather depressing topic, but I was looking to find a way to do it. Below, you’ll find three interesting facts about Brazil’s prison system.

The 30-Year Limit

The Brazilian Constitution (article 5° XLVII, b), says that “there will be no penalties of a perpetual character” (“não haverá penas de caráter perpétuo”). That means that in Brazil, no one gets “life” in prison, nor anything resembling it. Why? Well, if someone is 25 years old and commits a crime and that crime gets them 120 years in prison, then that’s no different than getting life. If it’s long enough to be considered life then that makes it “of a perpetual character”.

The Brazilian Penal Code (article 75) says, in gist, “the maximum prison sentence can’t be longer than 30 years and, if so, the sentences should be combined and made no longer than 30 years.” The Penal Code was created in 1940 by then-President Getúlio Vargas and, at that time, the average life span of a Brazilian was about 43 years. Creating a 30-year maximum sentence was, with twisted irony (considering the Constitution), basically enprisonment for life at the time. Today, despite the actual expectancy being over 70 years of age, the original law was never updated.

Cultured Convicts

As of mid-June last year, in all four Brazilian federal prisons, selected inmates can choose to read one book per month and write a review of it in order to get 4 days shaved off their sentence. That makes the total time diminished per year to a possible 48 days. The reviews must be grammatically correct and with readable handwriting. The warden of each prison would then have a committee read the review and decide if the prisoner should get the 4 days taken off.

Available to those prisoners would be works that are either literary, classic, scientific or philisophical in nature. The idea behind the program called “Redemption through Reading” (“Remição pela Leitura”) is to have more enlightened prisoners leaving their time behind bars, well, behind them.

Brazil’s Foreign Jail

São Paulo has 152 state prisons but one of them, in particular, stands out. Over 180 miles outside of the state’s capital, in a city called Itaí, there’s the prison that gringos built…ok, so they didn’t actually spend their time making it, but they happen to do their time within it. There’s close to 1,500 foreigners inside, representing a whopping 89 nationalities.

In the last several years, the prison population has almost doubled, and it’s mainly due to the reason most of them are there in the first place. Eight out of every ten inmates got caught for trafficking drugs. Of the highest populations by nationality, the top three are Nigerians, Bolivians and Peruvians. Inside, though, one can hear anything from Hebrew to Polish being spoken. It sounds like someone should be tasked with translating the phrase “Just Say No” and then spreading the message.


Job interview gone wild

Apparently, asking what kind of animal you’d be (if you could be one) is typical in Brazilian interviews…or at least it resonates with Brazilians. I say this because I’ve seen the ‘animal’ question used more than once recently in Brazilian humor. 

This is Brazil, On Facebook.

That’s supposed to reference the old but famous ‘don’t do drugs’ commercial (this is your brain on drugs). While I’m not a Facespacer or a Mybooker, I do find the concept of socialness viewed alone through a piece of hardware to be quite interesting. The picture below is a product of a Facebook engineer who decided to graph social connections worldwide via Facebook. I cut out (I mean, I only included) South America but you can see the whole world, too. Each blue line represents a “friendship”.

The Speed of Brazil’s Internet

An article was just published on the tech site Royal Pingdom about worldwide Internet speeds and there are some interesting graphs that accompany the article. While you may click on that link and see the full charts, I thought I’d give a breakdown of the country speeds in terms of the slowest, fastest and how both the US and Brazil measure up. The number in parenthesis next to each country name refers to the size of the country in terms of Internet users.

I wonder how the correlation is between frustration of using the Internet in the slowest country (Iran, in this case) and deciding to partake in other activities in light of the frustration. For example, would an adolescent choose to play outside rather than wait for a webpage to load? Of course it presumes that the adolescent’s family has a computer, nonetheless, it would be interesting to see data on how limited connection speeds (or even censorship) might give rise to more fulfilling activities.

Overall Speed

Worldwide Averages

Connection Speed Distribution

Hard-pressed to find good press

Ever since the rise of the digital age (I can’t speak for how it was before then), Brazil has received bad press in the media. You know, stories on violence, corruption and who-knows-what-else. For lack of a better term, that’s not ‘news’ to anyone. Same thing with Colombia, although I would argue Colombia gets it worse. As of recent, the positive press on Brazil has increased, which is not to say the bad press has decreased, and we can attribute it to the World Cup 2014 as well as the Olympics of 2016, both of which will take place in Brazil. The problem with this ‘positive’ press is that it still barely nicks the surface of what the positives in Brazil really are. You might see an article on caipirinhas, samba and beach life or perhaps something on the Portuguese language itself (as can be found in the newspaper The Guardian for Feb. 11th).

In one sense, I get it, I do…people these days just don’t have the patience to sit down and take in a longer, more in-depth piece (unless it’s on Gangs in Rio’s Favelas, of course). In another sense, I’m quite satisfied with the knowledge that among us bloggers, there exists enough real information, enough of the good stuff, to quench the thirst of any budding Brazilianist out there.

The point of good press though is to be able to grab new readers, to expose them to some place or idea that they may not have considered before. It seems either the bloggers need to be thrust towards the spotlight or the “real” reporters need to up their game because what is coming out of the woodwork these days isn’t cutting it.

Should Brazil ban Avatar?

Luciana from Street Smart Brazil shared an article from the Huffinton Post with me called “Avatar: Should Brazil ban the film?” (ironic because I saw Avatar in Brazil, more specifically the Amazon region).

Here’s the part on Brazil (half the article is on China pulling the film)

“What came to mind as I watched the film wasn’t China, but Brazil. The Na’vi live in a glorious tropical rainforest that is reminiscent of the biodiversity-rich Amazon, and the on-screen people’s ties to their homeland is as respectful and culturally unique as that of the real tribal peoples who call our planet’s greatest rainforest home. Sadly, the threats to the Amazon are real: more than 100 large dams are planned for the basin, which also faces logging, mining, and clearing for agriculture.

The Brazilian government bears some resemblance to the movie’s corporate raiders. Its plans to sell off the mighty river to the highest bidder will result in forced evictions and drastic disruptions of cultures and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people. The Amazon is as threatened as the Na’vi’s land, and many Amazonian tribes have made it clear they will fight for their homelands.

It’s probably a good thing for Lula’s government that most Amazonian tribal people can’t just run down to the corner multiplex to catch this flick; it might unleash a flood the government just can’t dam.”

LAN Houses (Cyber Cafes)

Here in Brazil, when you need to use the internet and dont have a computer, you can walk into any of the LAN Houses (cyber cafes) in just about every half-modern city.

When you enter, you tell the person at the front that you want to use a computer (unless you are 16 years old and are there to play Playstation with your friends and yell the whole time about who is beating who). The attendant will ask you how long you wish to use it and sometimes he or she will ask a question which might make you tilt your head a bit. They might ask, “você quer com web?” (do you want it with web?) and by ‘web’ they don’t mean the internet, but rather a webcam.

Now, either the place will have the time set in the bottom corner of the screen (such as in FedEx in the USA) and the clock counting down to zero or they will have a notebook where they make note of when you came in and how long you still have.

There was talk in Brazil recently of officially registering all users by writing down their name and ID number (which would later be given to the gov’t) to monitor web traffic ‘for our protection’ (ha-ha) but as of this point, it hasn’t come into effect as far as I can tell (and I use LAN Houses frequently).

If you use MSN, you’ll probably see a picture of a young man with his shirt off posing for the camera as the profile picture of the last person to use it but don’t mind that, just enter your details and sign on.

As for the web…I mean the net, Chrome and Firefox are widely used as browsers and the computers are always using Windows. In terms of prices per hour, it depends on where you are but where I am (in a smaller city), I pay 25 cents per hour but there are places in the same city that charge 50 cents per hour. In the city of Rio, I remember paying something like US$1-1.50 per hour back in 2005 so who knows if it has increased or not.

Internet access up 75% in Brazil (in 3 yrs)

“The percentage of Brazilians, who are 10 years or older, that are online increased 75.3% in the last 3 years, going from 20.9% in 2005 to 34.8% in 2008 (or 56 million users), the Brazilian Institution of Geography and Statistics stated on Friday.

The increase occurred just as much among men (21.9% in 2005 to 35.8% in 2008) as it did among women (from 20.1% to 33.9%). Last year, the utilization was larger among the youth: those between 15 and 17 years old registered the highest percentage (62%) of people that went online and also they represented the group with the highest increase in the last three years (when it was at 33.7%).”

Source (more here, in PT)