The precariousness of the prison system and the fight against Covid-19

The precariousness of the prison system and the fight against Covid-19

“We understand that they cut off our visits for the sake of our family members and for our own sake as well, but what they are doing with us is inhumane, as we have no hygiene conditions in the cell”. In a video recorded in an unidentified prison in Minas Gerais, this is one of the sections in which inmates demand more hygiene kits to protect themselves from Covid-19.

On March 18, 2020, before the beginning of social isolation, some precautionary measures were established by the Minister of Justice, Sérgio Moro, and the hitherto Minister of Health, Luiz Henrique Mandetta. The use of masks during the transportation of prisoners and the isolation of suspected or confirmed inmates with the coronavirus were some of these norms. However, cases in the prison system began to emerge.

According to the report, the first confirmed case of coronavirus in a detainee was on April 8. Today, in total, there are already 54 prisoners with positive tests for Covid-19, mostly in the Federal District, in addition to 181 suspects.

The first death of a prisoner in the country occurred on April 15, affecting a 73-year-old elderly man, who was being held in a closed regime in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Sergio Moro

As the number of infected people grew, new measures had to be taken. Still, according to a survey carried out by, 14 states plus the Federal District have already suspended visits and also legal assistance to prisoners.

According to Depen, the National Penitentiary Department, more than 30,000 detainees were released in order to reduce contagion. Sérgio Moro, in relation to these releases, said he did not agree and said that care should be taken with the release of prisoners who may pose risks to the population.

As the third country with the largest prison population in the world, Brazilian prisons hold 67.8% more than the maximum capacity. With overcrowding added to poor hygiene, prisons become an attractive focus for the proliferation of the disease. Today, we are already considered the fifth country with the most Covid-19 cases in detainees.

Some experts, in the report, claim to believe that extrication is the only way out. Leandro Sarcedo, chairman of the OAB-SP prerogative committee stated:

When thinking about a pandemic, the vulnerability of the penal system is obvious and, considering the large vacancy deficit in the system, there is no alternative but to initiate a policy of extrication. If we don’t discuss this seriously, we risk witnessing real genocide in our prisons in the coming months.

coronavirus prisons

Whatever the way out, the problem of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the prison environment has always existed. The coronavirus pandemic has only put them in evidence.

In order to save lives and guarantee human rights, including those who have committed crimes and are now on the margins of society, it is necessary to think about resolving these deficiencies, not only in a moment of exception like the one we are currently experiencing.

Will it be that even when the virus is contained and this situation softens, will we still give importance to issues of the Brazilian prison system and seek to solve these problems that surround it?