Dungeons and ‘Democracy': Brazilian Carceral Reform in the Bureaucratic Field

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:30
Location: Seminar 52 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Maria-Fátima SANTOS, University of California, Berkeley, USA
From 1984 to 2004, the prisons and jails of Brazil’s Espírito Santo State were characterized by the conditions that remain a reality for many Brazilian state carceral systems—they were grotesquely overcrowded, plagued by rampant violence, systematic human rights violations, and gross deficiency in basic food, medical and social services. However, from 2004 to 2014 state authorities dramatically reformed Espírito Santo’s carceral system, with a new administrative structure and objectives oriented towards (1) security and (2) resocialization (the provision of social services to facilitate inmates’ social re-integration). State authorities closed or entirely reformed the state’s 12 old dilapidated facilities and constructed 36 new ones. Buildings were characterized by a security-oriented architecture and surveillance technologies. The military police that had managed carceral facilities long after the formative transition from ‘authoritarian’ to ‘democratic’ rule were replaced with trained custody officers. Administrators invested in systematic medical, education and social services. How and why did this carceral transformation occur over the past decade? I answer this research question through an analysis of multiple data sources: (1) government documents, (2) interviews with prison administrators, wardens, military and civil police, and representatives of catholic church and human rights organization, and (3) direct observation of 12 prisons and jails in Espírito Santo. I demonstrate how Espírito Santo’s carceral system was reformed because the reality of carceral conditions became a political obstacle to an economic development project that emerged in 2004 by contributing to the public sense of insecurity. I argue that investment in initiatives not only oriented towards security but also social services was a political strategy to symbolically align the carceral system with the ‘democratic’ ideals that explicitly undergirded the state’s economic development project.